The second Major of the 2019 PGA Tour season is now in the books, with big-stage prodigy Brooks Koepka again having his name engraved in the trophy of a major championship, the second consecutive year that he has won the PGA Championship and the third consecutive year that he’s won the second-held major of the season. The event strengthened his position as a true superstar in the sports world.
As riveting as majors are, they are also emotional and exhausting, and it is not uncommon for the event that follows to be something of a letdown. Fortunately for fans of the PGA Tour, though, schedule changes brought an event that is nearly letdown proof into the post-PGA Championship fray: the Charles Schwab Challenge, an event that holds the distinction of being the longest-running non-major on Tour held continuously at one course, with famed Colonial Country Club hosting the event since 1946.
This year’s event, historically well-known for its affiliation with golf legend Ben Hogan, boasts an exceptionally strong field. Defending champion and world No. 3 Justin Rose is arguably the headliner, but the field also includes big names such as Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Francesco Molinari, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Louis Oosthuizen, and Kevin Kisner.
An event rich in talent and history, there is little doubt that the gem of Fort Worth, Texas is up for the daunting “challenge” of following a major.
Tournament: Charles Schwab Challenge
Dates: May 23-26, 2019
Where: Fort Worth, Texas
Course: Colonial Country Club
Distance: Par 70, 7,209 yards
Architect: John Bredemus/Perry Maxwell (1936)
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,314,000
Defending Champion: Justin Rose
Top-10 Betting Favorites: Rose, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Paul Casey, and Louis Oosthuizen.
1. Rose Defends
The current World No. 3, Justin Rose, the highest ranking of anyone in this week’s field, has posted an absolutely ridiculous amount of high finishes over the past two-and-a-half years, so it was thoroughly unsurprising that he was able to triumph in this event last year, even though he had not been showing his A game in the month coming in.
Rose’s week at Colonial was near impeccable: with two rounds of 64 and two of 66, he reached 20-under for the week, a total which has only been eclipsed once in the 71-year history of the event.
His Sunday was especially stellar, as he birdied six front-nine holes, allowing him to cruise home to the finish and win by three over Brooks Koepka.
What should we expect this year? His performance in the two majors so far has been disappointing (CUT, T29), but this is not a major and in five non-major starts since the calendar flipped to 2019, he has a win and a solo-third among four top-10s. There are some questions about his game, but those should not be a concern this week.
2. Spieth Surging?
He did not leave Bethpage Black as the sixth player in PGA Tour history to complete the career grand slam, but the recently-slumping Jordan Spieth was extremely encouraged by his T3 finish at the PGA Championship, his first top-20 finish on the season.
Now, the Dallas native arrives in nearby Fort Worth to play an event he won just three years ago. Can he finally put four rounds together? That would be the next step for the man who was in contention two weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Classic until a mediocre final round.
It should be noted that Spieth’s putter, which was a big problem for him a year ago is very, very hot. He gained nearly 11 strokes to the field on the greens at Bethpage, the best in the field, one week after finishing 7th in the same stat in Dallas. It seems unlikely that he would not contend at Colonial if that trend continues this week.
3. The Bethpage Black Effect
Prognosticating the week after majors is often difficult because they are so physically and mentally draining, and given that the Charles Schwab Challenge typically does not occur one week post-major, course history and recent form might not be quite the factor it usually is.
While only two players were really in Sunday contention at the PGA Championship last week (Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson) and neither are in the field, every big-name player in this week’s field was on Long Island.
Some of them had encouraging performances to build off of, most notably the aforementioned Spieth. Those at Colonial who played exceptionally in the tough Bethpage conditions include Chez Reavie, Brandt Snedeker, Abraham Ancer, Paul Casey, Graeme McDowell, and Beau Hossler, the latter of whom shot the field’s lowest score on Sunday.
Among those who made the cut, but struggled badly down the stretch include Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, Zach Johnson, and Louis Oosthuizen.
Then there are big names who missed the cut entirely like Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm. How will they respond in the lower pressure of this week’s event?
4. Fowler in the Field
The most popular man in this week’s field will undoubtedly be world No. 10 Rickie Fowler, who finished T14 at Colonial a week ago after posting four rounds in the 60s.
The 30-year-old has been in excellent form in the current season, ranking 7th in the FedExCup Standings. Fowler had made the cut in all 11 of his starts this season, with his best outings including a victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a runner-up at the Honda Classic.
Coming into last week’s PGA Championship, he had finished T17, T9, T4 in his prior three starts respectively. With his talent and his 7th ranked PGA Tour scoring average, he is one of the favorites at Colonial for far more than his personal popularity, but it is fair to wonder what kind of mental state he will be in after a final-round collapse at Bethpage Black (a 7-over 77 that dropped him 22 spots down the final leaderboard) gave a bitter ending to yet another major championship that he did not win.
5. Champions Choice
The Charles Schwab Challenge has an annual tradition called “champions choice,” where past event winners offer exemptions to two two players who would not qualify otherwise. While one of last year’s picks, Joaquin Niemann, finished T8, they have mostly not played well in recent years, with five of the six players chosen over the past three editions missing the cut entirely.
Still, they tend to be intriguing stories worthy of the extra attention. Nepotism was the theme of this year’s picks, which went to Dru Love and Tucker Wadkins, both sons of PGA Tour legends.
Love, the son of two-time Colonial runner-up Davis Love III is currently No. 1288 in the world rankings. He has missed the cut in 16 of 21 career professional events, and has played the weekend in just one PGA Tour event over the past two seasons. However, he did finish T12 in a recent Asian Tour event that included some big names such as Jazz Janewattananond (who won the event), Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Sergio Garcia.
Wadkins is the son of 21-time PGA Tour winner Lanny Wadkins. He currently sits 2063rd in the world rankings, and this will be his first official professional event of the year. He missed the cut in all seven starts he made in Canada last year.
This week’s power rankings offer some wrinkles as a few of the field’s top-ranked players are left off the list completely, including the field’s third-ranked player in Bryson DeChambeau (world No. 8), who has been in a funk since a T15 at Riviera. Also not listed is the field’s eighth-ranked in Tony Finau (world No. 15), who enters off a T64, T60, and T61 in three of his last four starts.
The Top 10
Number-Name (World Rank, Odds)
10. Chez Reavie (59, 60-1)
9. Kevin Kisner (26, 35-1)
8. Emiliano Grillo (63, 45-1)
7. Paul Casey (13, 28-1)
6. Francesco Molinari (7, 18-1)
5. Jordan Spieth (30, 12-1)
4. Xander Schauffele (9, 16-1)
3. Jon Rahm (11, 12-1)
2. Justin Rose (3, 11-1)
1. Rickie Fowler (10, 14-1)
Top Sleeper: Nate Lashley
At No. 384 in the world rankings, Nate Lashley is not exceptionally well-known, but we like the chances for that to change after this week.
The 36-year-old University of Arizona product is a shotmaker that has a game that sets up well for Colonial, something evidenced by his 20th place ranking on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green and his 18th place ranking in greens in regulation. He also putts exceptionally well, a common trait among recent winners of this event.
In his last outing, which was at close by in Dallas, at the Byron Nelson Classic, Lashley posted three rounds of 67 or better on his way to a respectable T29 finish. It could be easy to overlook Lashley.
Stat of the Week
11: the number of players who are tied for the second-most victories in the 71-year history of this event.
Colonial Country Club has proven itself to be a difficult course to master, as only Ben Hogan, the winner of 64 career PGA Tour titles including nine majors, has been able to capture the tournament title more than once.
With five wins, the last of which came in 1959, he is likely to hold onto that No. 1 position in Colonial lure for a long, long time.
Among those 11 to have won the Charles Schwab Challenge twice include Julius Boros, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Corey Pavin, Nick Price, and Phil Mickelson.
Only two players in this year’s field have a chance to notch their third event title: Kenny Perry, a 58-year-old who last won on the PGA Tour in 2009, and Zach Johnson, who won the 2010 and 2012 editions.
The Charles Schwab Challenge has been held at the same place for every edition since it’s 1946 inception, as event won by Ben Hogan, who would go on to win the tournament five times. It has a prestigious list of champions, and in addition to the two-time winners mentioned in the stat of the week Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson all have a single event title to their name as well. In the case of Watson, it was the final victory of a 39-win career, taking place in 1998 at the age of 48.
For its first 42 years, the event had just one name, the Colonial National Invitation, but it has seen numerous name changes in the era of corporate sponsorships. This is the tournament’s first year as the Charles Schwab Challenge, its sixth different name since 2000.
The event has gotten progressively easier over the years as well. The winning score of the inaugural edition was just 1-under, and from 1946 to 1977, there was not a single winning score that reached double-digits under par. That is a stark contrast from the current version, which has had a winner in single digits under par just once in the past 19 years, with Adam Scott taking the 2014 title at 9-under.
Last year’s winner, Justin Rose, even reached 20-under in his triumph, just one stroke short of the event record set by Zach Johnson in 2010.
Colonial at its most difficult was a special kind of brutal. Before it become the regular venue of this tournament, it was the host of the 1941 U.S. Open, which was won by Craig Wood at 4-OVER. Only four players in the field finished better than 10-over, and 15-over was still good enough for a spot in the top 10.
Hole of the Week
No.5, Colonial Country Club
Par 4, 481 yards
2018 average: 4.295 (toughest)
The exit point of Colonial’s “Horrible Horseshoe” trio, No.5 annually stands atop the difficulty list when PGA Tour pros come to play. The hole had its own nickname in the early days – “Death Valley,” noting all the 1941 U.S. Open participants staggered by the punishment doled out alongside the Trinity River.
Two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw, a Texas native, counts it among the hardest holes he’s ever played. Adam Scott, whose 2014 Colonial win made him the first to capture all four standard Texas events, isn’t inclined to disagree.
“If you do challenge anything and go wrong,” the Aussie said, “then there is a big number waiting to happen.”
A year ago, one in every three plays at No.5 went for bogey or worse, ranking 30th on the PGA Tour’s list of toughest holes. It’s been among the top 70 in seven of the past 10 seasons.
Even with modern equipment and training, No.5 remains a long par-4 that requires both power and precision. The Trinity runs along the entire right side, obscured by trees. A large ditch awaits wayward tee shots to the left, and the fairway slopes in that direction.
2018 Fort Worth Invitational: 0 eagles, 41 birdies, 229 pars, 104 bogeys, 16 doubles, 7 triples+
– Jeff Shain
“It’s New York. What do you expect, when you’re half-choking it away.”
– Brooks Koepka, PGA Championship Winner, on the feeling that the crowds at Bethpage Black were turning against him late on Sunday
“Every day that I missed practicing takes me one day longer to be good.”
– Ben Hogan, PGA Tour legend, and five-time winner of the Charles Schwab Challenge