BOB WEST ON GOLF: PGA Tour denies Mid-County dream in Houston Open

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Those who have been holding their breath hoping the PGA Tour would do something creative and unique by pairing the Port Neches-Groves High School trio of Chris Stroud, Andrew Landry and Braden Bailey in the first two rounds of the Houston Open can now exhale. Or maybe spit in disgust.

To the chagrin of many, including, I’m guessing, Houston Open officials who are going to be hard pressed to get folks out in numbers for a field devoid of big name stars, the Pea Patch trio not only isn’t together, they won’t be close enough on the course to follow more than one of them at a time.

It’s not surprising but it’s the golfing equivalent of a shank.

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Yes, the PGA Tour has a pairings formula it goes by that divides players into A, B and C categories, depending on accomplishments. But it’s not set in stone deep enough to prevent adjustments benefiting a TV network in order to help ratings. With Landry and Stroud in the A pairings category, it wouldn’t have been earth shattering to take Bailey out of the C group and put him with them.

Stroud and Landry, as they should be, are careful when discussing the subject. Both would have loved to have been paired with Bailey, and revel in the massive gallery that would have come over from Mid-County. But the PGA Tour is their golden goose and neither one is going to take it to task.

“They can do something like that and have done it for TV,” said Stroud. “It certainly would have been awesome for the three of us to have been out there together. I didn’t expect it would happen because of the policy, and I accept the decision. Hopefully, they can get our groups fairly close on the course.”

“The tour has regulations and normally won’t budge on them,” Landry said. “It totally makes sense to put us together but I trust their decision and what they do weekly.”

The pairings breakdown is as follows. Stroud is out at 7:35 a.m. Thursday off No. 1 and at 12:25 p.m. Friday on No. 10. He’s paired with Brian Gay and J.J. Spaun. Bailey is next at 8:55 on No. 1 Thursday and 1:45 on No. 10 Friday. His group includes Scott Harrington and Nelson Ledesma.

Landry, who is in one of four “feature pairings,” has a 12:35 Thursday on No. 10 and a 7:45 Friday on No. 1. Rounding out his group are Sebastian Munoz and Pat Perez.

Because of lucrative, no cut, all expenses-paid tournaments overseas the next couple of weeks, the inaugural Houston Open under Jim Crane’s Astros banner completely struck out on big name stars. Only two players in the field — No. 37 Henrik Stenson and No. 44 Keegan Bradley — are ranked in the world top 50.

It will quite likely be the weakest overall field for a PGA Tour event in the 2019-20 season. That’s a tough sell for an event competing against Astros playoffs and football.

All the more reason to do something out of the box and attention-getting like pairing three players from the same high school who learned the game on a nine-hole goat ranch called the Pea Patch. With their hometown of Groves only 90 miles away, Stevie Wonder could see what a special opportunity was at hand for a tournament struggling for pizzazz.

Since Crane went out of his way to help save the Houston Open, and keep it on the PGA Tour schedule despite a less-than-desirable fall date, it would seem that the tour would have turned back flips to help create a buzz in any way possible. Apparently, however, that obligation ended when the tournament’s lucrative guarantee to the tour was deposited.

To the credit of Lamar ex Giles Kibbe, who most of you know is Crane’s right-hand man, former LU golf coach Brian White and others who have worked their tails off to get the new Houston Open out to a positive start, some clever steps have been taken. Starting with sponsor exemptions.

Instead of giving them to over-the-hill veterans, they picked out rising stars from the immediate area. That group included University of Texas star Cole Hammer from Houston, Huntsville’s Chandler Phillips, University of Houston standout Michael Perras and Bailey. All of them will bring substantial galleries.

One of the biggest attractions, meanwhile, figures to be Texas A&M ex Cameron Champ who recently won for the second time. Champ is one of the longest hitters in the game. If you make the trip over, find time to follow him for a few holes or at least watch him on the practice tee.

As far as the three PNG exes in the field, by far the most intriguing will be Bailey. How will he handle the pressure of playing in his first PGA Tour event? Will he make the cut? Could he somehow get on a roll and beat fellow Indians Stroud and Landry.

Despite the PGA Tour denying Southeast Texans a once-in-a-lifetime pairing, the Pea Patch factor is still going deliver a memorable experience at the Golf Club of Houston. What a time it would be for Stroud or Landry to break out and win again.

Coming up: Bob West’s Chip Shots