News & Opinion

Texas Open shows its Tour kin how to grow

After the last putt drops Sunday at the Valero Texas Open, one could argue that the real work will be just beginning. That’s because the Monday after the tournament is probably the most important day of the year for tournament organizers.

If you think that tournament executive director Larson Segerdahl will be sleeping in once a champion has been crowned and he and his staff have 51 weeks to get ready to do it all over again, you’re dead wrong. Maybe Tuesday, but not on Monday.

That's because 11 local courses will host 19 morning and afternoon shotguns that day. More than 2,600 golfers are expected to participate, with tournament host TPC San Antonio’s two courses accommodating more than 500 players alone. There also will be four sporting clay tournaments to oversee. This is how the 2017 Valero Benefit for Children, together with the Valero Texas Open, raised a record $11 million for charity, bringing the overall total raised during Valero's 15-year title sponsorship to $122.4 million. 

The Valero Texas Open is the sixth-oldest professional tournament in golf worldwide, the third-oldest on the PGA Tour and the longest held in the same city. Pre-Valero, the largest tournament charitable donation was $500,000. What began as a small golf tournament in 1922 to benefit a San Antonio charity is today a nationwide effort to improve the lives of children. More than 160 organizations benefit from the money raised.

While the future of Texas tour stops in Houston and Fort Worth remains in doubt as officials in those cities seek sponsors to foot the bills, San Antonio's annual event seems to be on more solid footing than ever. It has a quintessentially Texas sponsor in San Antonio-based Valero Energy, an international manufacturer and marketer of transportation fuels and other petrochemicals, behind it, and if the rumors are to be believed, a promotion in the works for next year’s schedule.  

If Houston and Fort Worth are looking for reason to hope that better days lie ahead, they should look no further than their neighbors in San Antonio because it, too, once had been on death's door. There was a time when the Texas Open suffered from three strikes against it: a bad date during football season, a venue (La Cantera Golf Club) where players needed a Sherpa more than a caddie, and sponsor instability.

Former tournament head Tony Piazzi used to keep the letter of understanding signed by him and the Tour’s then-chief operating officer, Ed Moorhouse, agreeing that the Tour would subsidize the event in 2001 and the tournament would lose its date unless a new sponsor were to be found, tucked away in his filing cabinet.

Yet the Texas Open has survived all of that negative energy thanks, in part, to Valero, which signed a long-term commitment to keep the tournament in San Antonio. In 2009, that commitment was rewarded with another Texas-sized coup, escaping from an October date to a FedEx Cup points event in April or May. A year later, they opened their own new ballpark, TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course. 

Last year, Valero re-upped its title sponsorship deal for 10 years, the same length as FedEx agreed to do as title sponsor of the season-long points competition and playoffs. It's no wonder that the FedEx St. Jude Classic just got upgraded to World Golf Championships status beginning in 2019, which means Memphis can expect a serious upgrade in its field. Less than a month from now, at the Players Championship, the PGA Tour will release next season's schedule. There may be some last-minute maneuvering to this Rubik’s Cube. Commissioner Jay Monahan likely will announce that the Valero Texas Open will become the final warmup before the Masters in April, bumping the Houston Open from its usual perch. This is the next evolutionary step for San Antonio, a tournament on the rise after having been buried in the post-Masters spring-break-for-the-stars window. A better date enhances the ability of Segerdahl in his role as chief recruiter to attract the first-name gang of stars such as Jordan, Rory and Phil. As for Tiger? That's a different story.

One week after sewing up his PGA Tour playing privileges by winning the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, Tiger Woods received his Tour membership card behind the ninth green at La Cantera Golf Club. Woods hasn’t returned to San Antonio.

What’s a tournament to do? As ratings and attendance for this year's Valspar Championship proved, in today’s game, you still either have Woods or you don’t. But there’s a pecking order among the have-nots, too. Woods doesn't typically play the week before the Masters, so Segerdahl still faces an uphill battle with the game's brightest star. (Though considering Woods hasn't won a green jacket since 2005, Segerdahl may want to suggest it is time to shake things up.)

Apparently, a $6.2 million purse alone isn’t enough to attract a big-name field. Even with FedEx Cup points at stake, just one of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking and six of the top 30 showed up this week (Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott are the headliners). It has the feel of a glorified Web.com Tour field (tee times).

It doesn’t seem right, given that the Texas Open has been a charitable leader, ranked among the top five in fundraising for 10-plus years. If the Tour is going to beat its chest about its charitable giving, shouldn’t its players support the tournament that does it best? 

After all, the have-nots deserve to have a little, too. Especially now that the count is in its favor.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak