News & Opinion

Ah, those were the days

As Houston shifts from one era to next, major pro tours turn toward Asia and the future

What a weekend in sports, eh?

Major League Baseball is down to the nitty gritty, with four teams vying for a World Series berth and a chance to soak a clubhouse carpet with champagne … again.

Flag Football, aka the NFL, concluded Weekend No. 6 – at least, that’s the ruling on the field. The entire weekend is being reviewed to make sure that’s correct. Convincing evidence will be needed to overturn the weekend.

A new NHL season moved through its second weekend, and fear not, Minneapolis: There are still some 78 games to go. Chances are, the Wild will win one.

The NBA certainly distinguished itself last week, insulting the Chinese government, then genuflecting before it. Reluctant to double-dribble the lucrative Chinese market, our basketball patriots eased their conflicted souls by conducting media-free events.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 2018
Jerry Kelly might have been only an occasional champion on the PGA Tour, but he has become a regular winner on the 50-and-older circuit.

Don’t be surprised if that becomes a thing.

And then there was the magical weekend in golf. Goodness, where to begin? The PGA Tour completed Week 5 of the 2020 schedule. Yes, that’s right, reset your calendars, it’s 2020 in golf years. And remember the Houston event, one of the more distinguished dates on the schedule, played in the spring, week before the Masters, final tuneup for many, last chance to secure Augusta passage for others? Ah, yes; those were the days …

And that’s just the point. Those were the days. They aren’t anymore. The championship formerly known as the Shell Houston Open has been ravaged by disasters, natural and manmade. The tournament is no longer sponsored by Shell, as it was from 1992 to 2017, and it is no longer relevant.

Next year – or next season, if you prefer – the championship moves to Memorial Park, a municipal course on the western edge of town. The new backer, Astros Golf Foundation, is sinking $30 million into the public venue to have it PGA Tour-primed. Hey, you know the “Field of Dreams” mantra, “if you build it, they will come.”

But getting golf headliners to come has been a problem for the new Houston Open since it moved from the front of the line, i.e., the meaningful portion of the schedule, to the rear. The event Houston is now the last stop before the Asia Swing begins, otherwise known as the indirect flight.

Last week’s field featured but two of the top-50 players, the weakest non-opposite-field event in nearly five years, according to the Official World Golf Ranking. The OWGR gave the Houston strength of field a 73 rating. If personal experience serves, that’s a D-minus. Lanto Griffin, at No. 176 in the world, won it (scores).

The PGA Tour arrives in South Korea this week, China the next. May they be careful with their middle fingers and discriminating with their Twitter accounts.

Meanwhile, give the LPGA credit. That tour also heads to Asia this week, and it didn’t insult the good people of Houston by placing them on last week’s itinerary. That said, it’s a bit difficult to know the difference between when the LPGA plays and when it doesn’t. Some 40 percent of its events are outside the continental U.S. – and that’s not counting Sylvania, Ohio.

If you’re so inclined, you can catch some of the LPGA action on Golf Channel, which is not exactly the NFL on CBS. Consult Hank Haney for betting picks.

Don’t forget the Champions Tour, which wrapped up its 2019 schedule – yes, it’s still 2019 if you’re 50 or older. The Champions brought the curtain down on the regular schedule with the SAS Championship in Cary, N.C. Someone named Doug Barron had the lead but spit the bit. That’s Doug Barron, two Rs.

In the end, Jerry Kelly, the latest journeyman to turn juggernaut, picked up his sixth Champions win in three years (scores). Kelly had three wins in 619 starts spanning nearly three decades on the PGA Tour.

The geezers now move into the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs, which lasts for three weeks. Charles Schwab, by the way, is not one of the players, just a sponsor. We could explain how the playoffs work, but do you really care? At this point, with Bernhard Langer showing signs of age, with few “name” stars on the roster, the Champions Tour is like a more mature Houston Open, over ... and over ... and over again.

Last week, the Champions also announced a new event. The Ascension Charity Classic will be conducted Oct. 2-4 next year in St. Louis. Hale Irwin was on hand to generate excitement, vowing to play in the championship. Irwin will be 75 in June.

The press conference was at Norwood Hills Country Club and open to the media.

At least for now.