BOB WEST ON GOLF — Braden Bailey builds believers at Houston Open

Published 11:40 am Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Beyond the confidence he took away from his first appearance on golf’s big stage in last week’s Houston Open, Braden Bailey departed the Golf Club of Houston with an abundance of seriously memorable moments.

There was an eagle on his second hole, 15 birdies, a made cut, praise from golf’s most high profile teacher – Butch Harmon — an offer to sit in Astro owner Jim Crane’s suite for the Astros-Yankees ALCS opener, a ringing endorsement from a veteran PGA Tour caddie and a check for $18,200.

In the end, Bailey seemed to have removed any doubts he has the right stuff to make it, and possibly make it big on the PGA Tour in the not too distant future. Aside from some uncharacteristic putting woes on Saturday, and five penalty shots on drives that strayed, he showed a big-time arsenal of shots.

“All in all, it was amazing to me to watch what he was able to do,” said long-time PGA Tour caddie Gary Matthews, who was on Bailey’s bag because his regular employer, Charl Schwartzel, is taking some down time. “It just never seemed like the moment was too big for him.

“I didn’t know he went to Baylor, didn’t know anything about him until I met with him and his dad last week. He really surprised me with what he was able to do. His driving is going to need to improve a little, and his putting hurt him on Saturday, but his iron play is up there with the best.

“He’s just a wonderful kid and he really has a bright future. He showed me a lot when he made a double bogey on Sunday, then bounced right back with a birdie.”

Bailey also made quite an impression on Butch Harmon and his son, Claude Harmon III. The younger Harmon, by the way, works with the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler at the Harmon Teaching Center on the grounds of Crane’s Floridian National Golf Club.

“Butch and I followed him for three or four holes on Saturday and Sunday,” said Astros Sr. VP and General Counsel Giles Kibbe. “Claude was with us on Saturday. Both were very complimentary. In the locker room after Sunday’s round, Butch told Braden he really likes his swing and how he conducted himself.

“He also told him that he should be very proud that he was able to make the cut in his first PGA tournament and that he proved he belongs on the PGA Tour. Later in the day, Butch brought up Braden again and told me that Justin Rose missed the cut in his first 23 tournaments.”

Claude Harmon III was with Kibbe when Bailey, followed by what was probably the biggest gallery of the day, drove into the trap on the right of the rugged 18th hole on Saturday. As the group was walking up, Harmon turned to Kibbe and said, “Look at all the people. Who is in this group?”

It was, of course, Braden and his massive Mid-County following. Bailey promptly stepped in the trap and hit a near perfect shot from 195 yards. The ball came to rest only five feet from the hole. Unfortunately, that became one of his five missed putts from inside six feet on Saturday’s round.

Bailey, meanwhile, after rounds of 67-74-72-73, and a tie for 51st, was in a reflective mood on Monday.

“It was such a blast,” he said. “I was really pleased to make the cut but disappointed with the last two days. I played better than my score. Overall, it was just a great learning experience and I took away a lot of confidence. That first round was the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.

“I had a chance to go low again on Saturday, I gave myself a ton of opportunities with a lot of great iron shots, but couldn’t make any putts. It was the only round I putted poorly. The greens got a little crusty, picked up speed, got a touch bumpy and I wasn’t trusting my lines.”

So how about the chat with Butch Harmon?

“I had gone over to thank Giles and he was sitting there. He told me I have a great swing and that I had proven I belonged out there. That was awesome to hear from somebody like him. It reinforced my own feelings. I felt I belonged throughout the week. I can play with these guys. I do belong.”

Now that he’s established the belonging part, Bailey still needs somewhere to play. Hopefully, that will be the Korn Ferry Tour. To get to December’s Korn Ferry Q School, he will have to advance out of the second stage next month at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney.

“That’s my focus,” he said. “I feel good about my chances, but I have plenty to work on in the next three weeks.”

In his spare time, Braden can bask a bit in those memorable moments from Houston.

CHIP SHOTS: In the Saturday Super Senior 2 ball at Babe Zaharias, the team of Mark Lawson, Randy Monk, Larry Johnson and Buddy Hicks scored a sweep, winning the front in plus 1 and the back in plus 2 . . .

The Friday 2 ball at Zaharias saw the foursome of James Shipley, Don MacNeal, Wes McDonald and James Trahan tie the front in minus 4 and win the back with minus 2. Also minus 4 on the front was the team of Joe Gongora, Rufus Reyes, Harrell Guidry and Pete Reobroi . . .

Wednesday’s Babe Zaharias DogFight was played in an all-points count format. Winning with 38 points was the team of Mike Brown, Butch Cross, Robert Stansbury and a ghost player.

Closest to the pin winners were MacNeal (No. 2), Kenny Robbins (No. 7), Gary Fontenot (No.12) and Cross (No.15)

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net.