PAT WHEELER, Golf Correspondent
IRVING - Tuesday is an underrated day on the PGA Tour.
First and foremost, it’s a free. At least that’s the case for this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson and next week’s Dean and DeLuca Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, aka The Texas Two Step.
“It was a great day today,” Annette Simpson of Frisco said. “You can see just about everything on a Tuesday. And with the forecast this week, I wanted to get here today and take in as much as I could.”
Awaiting the opening ceremony near the giant statue of Lord Byron, the namesake of the tournament who once won 11 straight tournaments on tour in 1945, Simpson explained that her dad was a good golfer in years past and that she has always been a golf fan from the day she met the great Sam Snead at The Masters when she was just 7 years old.
The enjoyment of that conversation confirmed that Tuesdays are for the true golf fans who love the game passionately. Practice round days have become popular at the major championships but are relegated to Tuesdays on tour since Wednesdays are pro-am days highlighted by the amateur play of corporate executives and celebrities.
During a regular tour event, there is no formal competition on Tuesday as most of the pros arrive at the tournament site for practice and to attend logistical matters. It’s a relaxing day with cameras allowed for a possible picture of or with your favorite player. The pros are more accessible and receptive to friendly comments from fans as they work on their games while checking out the equipment options available. The equipment side of golf is ever evolving and the pros are just as curious as the golf public when it comes to finding a better club or training device.
The pros play at least nine holes of practice so spectators can watch a player tee off or putt out but a favorite place to go on a Tuesday is the practice area, specifically the putting green. On one end of the green, South African native Marius Filmater and his son Sehan, known better as Chief, were working with their clients and potential clients on putting, with the latest gadgetry to monitor their strokes. Long considered the preeminent putting guru, Filmater is also a personality who enjoys a good laugh while dispensing his vast knowledge.
Around the perimeter of the green are the club reps with every conceivable putter or training device imaginable. The pros are always looking to improve and so a constant flow of curious players check out the wares. Just in a 30-minute timeframe I notice the previous top-ranked player in the world, Jason Day, working with a device while his countryman, fellow Aussie, Stuart Appleby is testing one of the new thick grips now preferred on putters by many pros, most especially Dallas’ Jordan Spieth.
Day is what makes the PGA Tour so appealing to the golfing public. Handsome and polite, Day won his first tournament on tour at the Nelson in 2010. Then he was a can’t miss 21-year-old rookie and those predictions proved true as he rose to the world’s top ranked player for about a year before being supplanted last year by Dustin Johnson. For a few years, Day and his wife made their home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area but now live in Ohio.
The buzz around the green is about another 21-year-old golfer who burst onto the scene last week at The Players Championship in Florida – South Korean Si Woo Kim. It was Kim who mastered the TPC Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra with a win worth almost $2 million. Kim does call the D/FW area home and though he is taking off this week, he will no doubt draw a crowd when he returns to play at Colonial next week.
Spieth draws a crowd as he makes his way from the putting green to the practice tee. Later he will conduct a clinic for junior golfers and it is announced at a news conference that he is soon to be on the cover of a box of Wheaties cereal. In addition to being a nice young man and talented golfer, the 23-year-old Spieth is now a virtual corporation with a fulltime agent and ties to giants AT&T, Coca-Cola, and now General Mills.
Watching the pros practice their short games is instructive. The technique can be varied but their impeccable rhythm is what stands out. It is often fun to go and practice after observing the pros because that tempo tends to carry over at least for one day.
The opening ceremony was a bittersweet occasion highlighted by the appearance of defending champion Sergio Garcia on a warm and cloudy afternoon. The 2017 Nelson marks the 35th and final year for the tournament at the TPC Four Seasons resort.
Also the reigning Masters champion, Garcia expressed the sentiments of many when he said he would miss coming to this course that is part of the Las Colinas area just west of Dallas. After hugging Peggy Nelson, the widow of the late golf champion, Garcia addressed a crowd of some 100 spectators.
“This is such an honor for me to be a two-time winner of the Byron Nelson,” Garcia said. “Byron was so good to me when I came here in 1999 for my first pro tournament and the Four Seasons will always hold a special place in my heart. We will miss coming here but will never forget you.”
Following Garcia were comments by dignitaries from the Salesmanship Club of Dallas and its primary charity, The Momentus Institute. Through the 50-year history of the Byron Nelson, the Salesmanship club has helped raise more than $150 million to help children from underprivileged areas of Dallas. To highlight the good work being done by the school, a choir of fourth grade students concluded the ceremony with an uplifting song about having dreams for the future and reaching out to achieve them.
A color guard of ROTC students from MacArthur High School in Irving helped kick off the ceremony as the national anthem was sung by a Salesmanship Club member.
Next year, the Nelson moves to Trinity Forest Golf Club in South Dallas, a new links style course designed by Texas golfing icon Ben Crenshaw and his architectural partner Bill Coore.
Trinity Forest is a high-end private club that involves a joint venture between the City of Dallas, AT&T and SMU. The course has no trees and sits atop a remediated landfill near the Great Trinity Forest.