BOB WEST ON GOLF — Houston Open quickly making waves with Crane, Kibbe

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Like most ventures Houston Astros owner Jim Crane gets involved with, the reborn Houston Open is becoming a force with which to be reckoned. In three short years after the PGA Tour took away the “old” tournament’s prime pre-Masters date and banished it to the fall, Crane’s new-look HO is making serious waves.

Southeast Texas will be able to check it out up close and personal next week when the event is played for the second time at Memorial Park. Thanks to a $34 million upgrade spearheaded by the fledgling Astros Golf Association, Memorial Park drew raves and top players for its debut in 2020.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, no fans were able to attend the inaugural event at the long time Houston muni which had last hosted a PGA Tour event in 1963. That’s one of many reasons Lamar ex and Crane’s right-hand-man Giles Kibbe is so excited and hopeful that fans will come pouring through the gates next week.

“This is our year to showcase,” Kibbe, the president of the Astros Golf Foundation, told the Houston Chronicle last month. “We want everybody to come out and to see what we’ve done. We’re really proud of it.

“They’re going to see a great golf course, they’re going to see great facility changes and we’re going to create an exciting tournament. It’s going to be a big party.”

Spectators are also going to see a much stronger field than is customary for a fall event when competing with college football and the NFL leaves the PGA Tour out of sight and out of mind for the most part. It’s yet to be determined if the 2021 field will be as strong as the 2020 lineup that saw Dustin Johnson and Hidecki Matsuyama tie for second behind Carlos Ortiz, but there is no shortage of big names.

Ahead of the Friday entry deadline, the Houston Open already has commitments from six of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Rankings and 10 of the top 42. The star group is headed by No. 11 Tony Finau, No. 13 Brooks Koepka, No. 19 Sam Burns, No. 22 Patrick Reed and No. 24 Scottie Scheffler. Gary Woodland, who won the U.S. Open in 2019 and 2019 British Open champ Shane Lowry add to the luster.

Equally attractive from a Golden Triangle perspective, the PN-G duo of Andrew Landry and Chris Stroud, and the Lamar twosome of Dawie van der Walt and M.J. Daffue, will be teeing it up. Stroud, Van Der Walt and Daffue are all in on sponsor exemptions.

If you are wondering what draws a heavyweight like Koepka to Houston in November, it’s primarily because he helped heralded golf course architect Tom Doak with the massive redo of Memorial Park’s layout. Having Koepka as an insider of sorts was a stroke of genius on Crane’s part.

The ultimate goal for Crane and Kibbe is almost certainly to get the Houston Open out of the fall and back into the spring. No matter how good a tournament gets in the fall, it doesn’t have the cache of being contested at a time when golf isn’t somewhat of an afterthought.

Ideally, the Houston Open will at some point again become part of the Texas swing. Odds on that are so good, Mattress Mac might even want to put down a few million on it.

Don’t kid yourself about PGA Tour loyalty. It was ready to drop Houston altogether until Crane swooped in to save the day. Check back several years and see how the schedule has changed. If the Houston Open continues to grow and prosper as a fall event, it’s just a matter of time until another tourney gets punted to the fall.

In the meantime, I’d strongly encourage a trip to Houston next week to get a look at Memorial Park, to support Stroud, Landry, Van der Walt and Daffue and to check out some of the tour’s best players and rising stars. Depending on the day you go, tickets range from $33.75 to $55. Kids 15 and under get in free with a ticketed adult.

Rather than go through all the options here, just Google “Houston Open tickets.”

CHIP SHOTS: Another week, another hole in one at Babe Zaharias. Ted Freeman of Port Arthur authored the latest ace, sinking an 8-iron from 112 yards on the 7th hole into a wind gusting up to 25 mph. It was Freeman’s 2nd ace. Witnesses were Ron LaSalle, Cap Hollier and Larry Johnson.

Chris Stroud continues to be plagued by tough luck. Making his second PGA start of the year in the Bermuda Championship, Stroud was on the wrong side of the draw and got stuck in winds gusting above 40 mph and pouring rain on Thursday. That led to an opening 76. He rebounded with an impressive 68, only to miss the cut by one shot.

Dawie van der Walt suffered the same fate as Stroud, shooting 76 in the morning wind, then bouncing back with a 68 to miss the cut by two. Neither Van der Walt nor Stroud were able to get into the field at this week’s Mayakoba Classic.

Andrew Landry, after sitting out Bermuda, is playing this week. Landry missed the cut by one stroke in his last start in Las Vegas after finishing T4 in the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Best 3 ball was the format for Monday’s Senior 50 Plus game at Babe Zaharias. Winning the front with plus 3 was the team of Eddie Delk, Tony Trevino, Paul Guillory and Richard Menchaca. Taking the back with plus 2 was the foursome of Bobby Wactor, Joe Gongora, Art Turner and Dan Flood.

In the Super Saturday 2 ball at Zaharias, the team of Ed Holley, John Jessen, Jerry May and Don MacNeil won the front with minus 4. There was a tie at minus 3 on the back between the team of Bill Hanley, Rusty Hicks, Rick Pritchett and Stewart Ellis and the foursome of Ron LaSalle, Gary Fontenot, Troy Touchet and Randy Trahan.

The Friday 2 ball at Zaharias, played in roaring winds, ended with the team of Kenny Robbins, Pritchett, Johnson and Mike Junot scoring a sweep. They were plus 5 on the front and plus 3 on the back. Closest to the pin winners were Robbins (No. 2), Earl Richard (No. 7, No. 15 ) and Turner (No. 12).

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