Many of the thoughts on the PGA Tour this time of year are focused on the Masters in a couple weeks, but first comes a Texas two-step to complete the run-up.
The Shell Houston Open is this week near Houston, followed by next week’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. They serve as the final two opportunities for anyone not currently in the Masters field to play their way in by winning. The Houston Open folks have smartly concluded that players are already busy preparing for the Masters, so setting up the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club as close as possible to Augusta National — not much rough, super-quick, contoured greens, tightly mown chipping areas — could bring some star talent to their event.
It’s paid off: Five of the top 10 in the world golf rankings are playing this week, including Rory McIlroy (No. 2) and Keegan Bradley, who has cracked the top 10 for the first time in his career. Bradley, the Hopkinton High product who tied for third at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, is ranked 10th. But that might improve after this week, because Bradley seems to like Redstone: He tied for fourth last year.
Want a dark horse this week? Try Jordan Spieth. The 19-year-old left the University of Texas after the first semester of his sophomore year to try his hand at pro golf, and despite not earning his card through Qualifying School, he’s already pocketed $521,893 in just four starts. He tied for second in Puerto Rico and tied for seventh two weeks ago at Tampa Bay, enough to give him temporary PGA Tour membership for the rest of the season.
Going to great lengths
Count Ernie Els among those preparing for when — or is it if? — golf’s governing bodies outlaw the ability of a player to anchor a putter against the body, something Els has done recently, including during his win at last year’s British Open. Els, playing in Thailand this week, said that he’ll be using a standard-length putter for the Chiangmai Golf Classic, but that he’ll go back to using the longer belly model at the Masters . . . Hideki Matsuyama, winner of the first two Asia Amateur tournaments who made the cut the last two years at the Masters, will make his professional debut next month on the Japan Tour, where he’s already won a tournament . . . It’s a light tournament week — no LPGA, Champions, or even Web.com action on the schedule — but there is one local college event. The Bentley Cape Cod Classic is scheduled to be a 36-hole, one-day tournament on Saturday, bringing nine teams to the Bay Pointe Club in Onset.
Those with an interest in competitive golf won’t have to look far once again this year. In addition to events put on by the Massachusetts Golf Association and Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts that require official GHIN handicaps, there are a number of alternatives for those without indexes or who might not have handicaps low enough to qualify for certain events. More than a dozen MGA Member Days are scheduled, starting May 13 at the Country Club of New Bedford. Registration can be found at www.mgalinks.org. The New England Series (www.newenglandseries.com), run by the New England PGA, offers at least 23 tournaments at some of the finest public and private courses around, beginning April 15 at TPC Boston. Membership runs $100, which includes a gift bag of golf balls, hat, towel, and NEPGA Golf Pass. Offering multiple tournaments every week — starting with an April 4 stop at Pinehills — the Boston Amateur Golf Society (B.A.G.S. to its loyal fans and members, www.bagsgolf.com) is always a popular option. Like B.A.G.S., the Tour of Greater Boston (www.tourofgreaterboston.com) has established itself over the years, visits many of the area’s best courses, and has close to 60 tournaments already on the 2013 schedule . . . The New England Golf Pass provides special pricing to more than 75 courses. Cost is $45, and information on how you can purchase one is available at www.nepga.com/pass.
Before we begin the new season, let’s give a tip of the cap to players, people, tournaments, and courses earning distinction over the last few months. At the annual MGA Salute to Champions dinner in January, Colin Brennan of Indian Ridge Country Club was recognized as the 2012 Richard D. Haskell MGA men’s player of the year. Brennan won two summer events, was a quarterfinalist at the Massachusetts Amateur, set two course records, and tied for fifth at the New England Amateur. Kevin Carey (Dennis Pines) was named the senior player of the year, and Patrick Frodigh (Dedham Country & Polo Club) took top junior honors. Two-time state amateur champion Pam Kuong was named the player of the year by the WGAM. Two special awards were also handed out at the annual dinner. Robert G. Dowling III of Oyster Harbors became just the 14th recipient of the MGA’s Frank H. Sellman Distinguished Service award, while Peter Costello (Cohasset) was given the Andrew J. Blau volunteer of the year award . . . Both PGA Tour events held in New England were honored at the tour’s “Best Of” tournament meetings Dec. 6. The Deutsche Bank Championship, held every Labor Day weekend at TPC Boston, won the award for best social media activation. The Travelers Championship, held the week after the US Open in Cromwell, Conn., at TPC River Highlands, was a winner in two categories: most fan-friendly tournament, and best title sponsor integration . . . Four Massachusetts courses were ranked among the country’s top 100 by Golf Digest, led by The Country Club in Brookline, which came in at No. 24, eight spots lower than the magazine’s previous tabulations two years ago. The other Bay State courses making the prestigious list, which comes out every two years, were Old Sandwich Golf Club (No. 68) in Plymouth, Boston Golf Club (No. 74) in Hingham, and the Kittansett Club (No. 84) in Marion . . . Norman White III and TJ White, who own and operate Sandbaggers Golf Range in Pembroke, have been honored as a 2012 Ping regional club fitter of the year . . . Not local, but certainly relevant enough to be included here, longtime golf writer Dan Jenkins will receive the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award, the organization’s highest honor.