News & Opinion

Tour players fail history by skipping Colonial

It is in danger of becoming an anachronism, about to be rendered irrelevant in today’s modern game. There was a time when the Colonial mattered. It still should.

The Dean and DeLuca Invitational, which begins Thursday at historic Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, was once one of the premier events on the PGA Tour. It is among a handful of “invitational” tournaments with smaller fields and their own eligibility requirements.

It used to be that the Texas Swing – the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Colonial, which are played in consecutive weeks in suburban Dallas – was a must-play, especially when the late Nelson used to come to the Masters to ask players to commit to his event. The quality of the field has dwindled in recent years at Colonial and now it looks more like Hartford or Memphis than an elite event.

Most of the game’s stars, particularly the big-hitting players, stay away from Colonial. They can’t keep it between the trees off the tee and dislike hitting irons instead of drivers, therefore erasing their length advantage.

Tiger Woods didn’t play the Colonial for exactly that reason. Ditto, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who won’t tee it up this week, either.

Colonial is a relatively short – about 7,200 yards – par-70, old-style layout with tree-lined fairways. It rewards shotmakers, not bombers. The past 10 winners include Zach Johnson (twice), Steve Stricker, David Toms, Boo Weekley and defending champion Jordan Spieth.

It’s difficult to make par from the trees, but that didn’t prevent Phil Mickelson from doing so in 2008 on his way to a second Colonial victory.

Ben Hogan won five times, when it was the Colonial National Invitation. The list of champions includes Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Weiskopf, Billy Casper and Nick Price.

More than any other sport, golf leans on its history as part of the attraction. Most of the previous generation of players believed that if it was good enough for Hogan, that’s all that need be said.

But history doesn’t seem to matter as much to today’s players. There’s a whole new generation who were children when Woods was in his prime, so history looks more like Tiger than it does Palmer and Nicklaus.

Now that the game has devolved into bash-it-and-find-it, many players don’t want to compete anyplace that requires more than a wedge for the second shot. And new courses on the PGA Tour cater to that desire. Today’s bombers would rather play Liberty National than Colonial.

And while that should change, it’s likely not to happen. In fact, the trend is going in the opposite direction. The Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club doesn’t get the field that it deserves. The RBC Heritage used to be a must-play spot, with Harbour Town ranked consistently among the players’ favorite courses. But the field these days is far from star-studded.

There’s so much money to be made on the PGA Tour that players can afford to pick and choose where they play. It’s said that most players make 80 percent of their money in 20 percent of their tournaments. So, it makes sense to them to play in places where they are the most successful. Woods made a career of such scheduling.

But golf is a different sport, mainly because of the venues on which the championships are conducted. Players, particularly the younger ones, should get in touch with the game’s history and its context. They owe it to the game – and to themselves – to pay their respects to a shrine such as Colonial.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com