This week, the PGA Tour is doing something that it has already done 87 times since 1922: teeing it up in San Antonio, Texas for the Valero Texas Open.
Despite its reputation as a basketball city in a football state, San Antonians are also crazy about their golf, and this is the week where that love for golf is most prominently on display.
As the third oldest tournament on the PGA Tour, the sixth oldest worldwide, and the oldest tournament where every edition has been played in the same city, the Valero Texas Open has a rich tradition of hosting elite-level golf.
For much of its history, the tournament had a reputation for surrendering exceptionally low scores, evidenced most by Mike Souchak’s winning total of 27-under par in 1955 and Tommy Armour III’s record-setting 254 (64-63-62-65) in 2003, a Tour record that stood until Justin Thomas broke it in Hawaii just three months ago.
However, as the tournament has started to award larger purses, it has been played at TPC San Antonio, a much tougher test. How tough? Ask Kevin Na, who shot a 12-over 16 on ONE HOLE in the 2011 edition. That may be an extreme outlier, but in 2012, one of the runner-ups had a round of 77 on their card, and three of the past six winners have finished single-digits under par.
This year, Charley Hoffman, who contended at The Masters less than two weeks ago, will attempt to defend his 2016 title against a skilled field that includes the likes of Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, and Brooks Koepka, among others.
With temperatures expected to reach the upper 80s by Thursday, the Valero Texas Open should be a thrilling and exhausting showdown of PGA greats in the Alamo City.
While the Valero has been in San Antonio since the tournament’s inception, it has bounced around eight different courses, starting at Brackenridge Park Golf Course. The 1922 inaugural event was won by American Bob MacDonald; the second victory of his successful war-shortened career.
Over the years, the tournament has had a lot of notable winners, including Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer, Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, and Lee Trevino. Palmer and Justin Leonard have the most Valero victories, with three a piece. Seven other golfers have won twice, with Zach Johnson (2008-2009) the only one who is still an active player.
Since 2010, the tournament host has been the TPC San Antonio Oaks Course, a Greg Norman design with help from newly minted Masters Champion Sergio Garcia. Adam Scott has been the most notable winner since the move to TPC San Antonio, although Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Patrick Reed have all finished runner-up.
Name: TPC San Antonio, AT&T Oaks Course
Where: San Antonio, Texas
Distance: 7435 yards
Architect: Greg Norman
Winning Share: $1,134,000
FedEx Cup Points: 500
The defending champion of the Valero Texas Open is Charley Hoffman. Hoffman started his tournament off hot, shooting a six-under 66 in the first round. After posting 71-70 in the next two rounds, Hoffman went into the final round in third place, trailing Ricky Barnes by two strokes.
On Sunday, Barnes faded on the front nine, while Hoffman outdueled Patrick Reed and Chad Collins down the stretch, shooting a 69 and winning by a stroke over Reed. A Hoffman-Reed playoff was narrowly avoided when Hoffman got up-and-down from a bunker to card a par on the 72nd hole.
2015: Jimmy Walker
2014: Steven Bowditch
2013: Martin Laird
2012: Ben Curtis
2011: Brendan Steele
Lowest Final Score: 254, Tommy Armour (2003)
Lowest Final Score (TPC San Antonio): 274, Adam Scott (2010); Martin Laird (2013)
Low Round: 60, Bart Bryant, Zach Johnson
Low Round (TPC San Antonio): 63, Matt Every; Martin Laird
Round 1: 3:30-6:30 PM – Golf Channel
Round 2: 3:30-6:30 PM – Golf Channel
Round 3: 1:00-2:30 PM – Golf Channel; 3:00-6:00 PM – CBS
Round 4: 1:00-2:30 PM – Golf Channel; 3:00-6:00 PM – CBS
Going into last year’s Valero Texas Open, Charley Hoffman had fallen into a frustrating habit. He kept starting off hot to get into contention, and then losing his game on Sunday, as illustrated below:
Five Starts Before The Valero
1. WGC-Cadillac: Round 1- 68, Round 4- 75 (+7)
2. Valspar Championship: Round 1- 69, Round 4- 75 (+6)
3. Shell Houston Open: Round 1- 64, Round 4- 76 (+12)
4. The Masters: Round 1- 71, Round 4- 74 (+3)
5. RBC Heritage: Round 1- 68, Round 4- 65 (-3)
It was a disturbing trend that he reversed at the Valero, when he started with a 66, and did what he needed to in round 4 with a three-under 69. Unfortunately, in the lead-up to this year’s Valero, Hoffman has fallen back into that deleterious pattern.
Last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Hoffman got off to a fantastic start, with five birdies to just one bogey for a four-under 68. In his final round, however, Hoffman bogeyed 5, 7, 8, and 9 on the front nine, which lead to a round 4 73. He lost to Marc Leishman by a single stroke.
Then at The Masters, Hoffman looked like he was playing a different course than everyone else, dominating Augusta to the tune of a seven-under 65 and a four shot lead, on a day where only two other players were under par.
He followed it up with a poor round 2 (75), and an average round 3 (72), but off the strength of that incredible round 1, was still in contention. Sunday ended up being his worst round of the tournament, as he ended up shooting a six-over 78 and dropping to T22 for the week.
Hoffman has shot par or worse in each of his five rounds since that unbelievable round one at The Masters, playing the rest of that week +9, and then missing the cut at last week’s RBC Heritage after opening with a pair of two-over 73s.
Being the defending champion in San Antonio should give him confidence, but if he is going to go back-to-back, he will need to putt much better than he has this year. During the current season, Hoffman ranks 156th in strokes gained putting, a considerable drop from 105th last year, 90th in 2015, and 45th in 2014.
2. The Surprising Slump of Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed, a San Antonio native, was runner-up at last year’s Valero Texas Open, one of his 11 top 10s in 2016, second most on Tour. The 26-year-old has already won five career tournaments and was undoubtedly the American star for last year’s winning American Ryder Cup team. He was expected to take another step forward this season, but for some reason, that has not happened.
His past six events especially have been a big struggle, as he has finished T59, T61, T38, T51, CUT, CUT. That T61 was at the WGC-Cadillac, a 76-man, no cut tournament, and the second of those missed cuts was his miserable showing at The Masters two weeks ago, where he went home after shooting rounds of 76 and 77. He has just one top 10 in 12 events this season, with that sole top 10 being a T6 in early January at the SBS Tournament of Champions, another tournament with an abbreviated field (32 players).
His scoring average has dropped from 70.170, 17th on Tour, to 71.750, 148th on Tour. Surprisingly, he is still putting well, but has been atrocious with his irons as he ranks 176th in greens in regulation percentage, and 186th in strokes gained: approach-the-green.
Despite the Valero being a hometown tournament for Reed, his 2016 appearance was his first in three years. However, with the familiar surroundings and his recent success at TPC San Antonio, this could be the week where Reed finally gets his game back on track. It seems unlikely that any player who has been as unbelievable on the Ryder Cup stage as Reed can stay down for long.
3. A Luck-y Professional Debut
The Valero Texas Open will mark the PGA professional debut of 20-year-old Australian amateur Curtis Luck, the world’s #1 ranked amateur prior to his recent professional declaration. Luck was dominant in taking last year’s U.S. Amateur title, winning the championship match 6&4. He also won the Asia-Pacific Amateur.
He had originally planned on going pro shortly after the U.S. Amateur, but with the major exemptions he got for The Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship, he decided to keep his amateur status a little longer.
Luck was in the field for the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, but was disqualified after signing an incorrect scorecard. After a first-round 79, Luck wasn’t going to make the cut anyway, but he was still disappointed with the DQ. His Masters debut went much, much better, however. Luck was the low amateur at Augusta, finishing T46, and played the final three rounds at just three-over. He then decided he could not wait any longer to turn pro, and the Valero will be his first stop.
The bar for Luck has been set high after Jon Rahm finished T3 at the 2016 Quicken Loans National in his professional debut. The year prior it was Bryson DeChambeau who finished T4 in his pro debut at the RBC Heritage. Top 5 may be asking a bit much out of Luck, but he is very much among those to watch closely this week.
4. The Other Curtis In The Field
To say that the career of Ben Curtis has been a roller coaster would be an understatement. In 2003, as a complete unknown, he took the golf world by storm, winning the Open Championship in his first ever start in a major.
His next two seasons were disappointing, however, as he made just 17 cuts in 44 events, with only 3 top 10s, and barely $1 million in earnings. He was on the verge of looking like a one-hit wonder, but a strong 2006 rejuvenated his game, as he won twice and made most of his cuts. His 2007 was difficult again, but he came roaring back in 2008, earning $2.6 million (his career best) and nearly winning the PGA Championship. He was the sole leader after three rounds, but could not hold off a very low final round from Padraig Harrington, and ended up finishing T2.
The 2008 season, however, again was not a springboard to consistently great play for Curtis. From 2009-2011 he went through yet another rough patch, with no wins and just two top 10s over those three seasons. He then had his third bounce-back season, earning $2.5 million in a 2012 season highlighted by his Valero Texas Open triumph.
Whatever he had gotten back, he managed to lose again, as this stretch from 2013 to the present has been the worst of his career. He has played just seven events over the last two seasons, making the cut only once. Maybe his low point, he was +18 after two rounds of the 2016 Open Championship, missing the cut by a mile.
The Valero will be just the second PGA start of the year for the 39-year-old Ben Curtis, as he missed the cut at the Puerto Rico Open, an opposite-field event in March. Now ranked 1897th in the world, his latest attempt to resurrect his career yet again will be at the place he last won, five years ago.
Other Notables In The Field
If the official world golf rankings were calculated solely off the strength of round 4s, Kuchar would have skyrocketed up the list in the last few weeks. At The Masters, he was barely on the radar through three rounds, but contended on Sunday with a five-under 67 highlighted by an ace on the 16th hole.
His furious back-nine rally came up just short, but it ended up being a T4 for Kuchar, the 38-year-old top 10 machine. He was Mr. Sunday again at last week’s RBC Heritage, shooting an incredible seven-under 64 that was three strokes better than the next lowest Sunday round in the field.
It was good enough to move Kuchar from T63 to T11 for the week. His best finish in San Antonio was a T4 in 2014.
Another intriguing storyline for the week is the presence of Ian Poulter. This will be the last start for Poulter on a major-medical exemption he received after missing four months last year with a foot injury. He needed to earn $145,000 over his last two starts to keep his PGA Tour card, and looked to have done it in one week, but a poor final round at the RBC Heritage dropped him from 3rd to T11.
He made $114,000 in that start, and now needs to make $31,000 this week. The T11 was his only strong result this season, however, so it may be an uphill battle.
Coming off a strong 2016 season where he had 7 top 10s, including two runner-ups, and was a productive player for the United States at the Ryder Cup as an automatic qualifier, Koepka’s poor start to his 2017 season was a big surprise. In his first six 2017 starts, he missed four cuts and finished T42 and T48 in two others.
Over his past two starts, however, he seems to have broken out of his funk with strong performances in two high-level events: a T9 at the WGC-Dell Match Play and a T11 at The Masters. The 26-year-old missed the cut at TPC San Antonio last year.
Credit: PGA Tour Communications, Valero Texas Open Communications, Getty Images