‘You have tournaments suffering’: Texas Open among PGA Tour events feeling pinch

A scene from the 2022 Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio.

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SAN ANTONIO — For a state whose unofficial motto begins “Don’t Mess With…,” there has been a whole lot of messing over the years with Texas’ oldest and most historic PGA Tour event, the Valero Texas Open, held this week at the TPC-San Antonio. 

Eight different host sites. Shifting spots on the Tour schedule. Off years. A sponsor-free year in which the Tour helped fund the event. Fall dates that have competed with the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. 

The Texas Open’s latest challenge: non-designated status, which in 2023 has made it tougher than ever for tournaments of its ilk to attract big names. The only major winners in the field this week are Hideki Matsuyama and 51-year-old Padraig Harrington, and even the Texas stars who historically have turned out to support their home-state event have stayed home. Among the top Lone Star no-shows are former Texas Open champion Jordan Spieth and Dallas residents Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris. 

“You usually do see the Texas guys around, but there have been so many changes with the new Tour schedule,” said Matt Kuchar, who needs a win this week to qualify for the Masters.

These are nervy, uncertain days for non-designated events. With the top players laser-focused on the big-money designated sites, smaller tournaments have struggled to draw star power, especially those events sandwiched between must-play starts. The financial backers of these events are also skittish. As a tournament director, who was granted anonymity, told Fire Pit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck: “If you’re not a designated event, there is a lot of stress and uncertainty about how you are going to keep, or find, a title sponsor. It all boils down to eyeballs for the sponsors: Are they getting what they signed up for?”

It’s exactly the Texas-sized shakeout Ryan Palmer had feared for the Texas Open when the Tour first announced designated tournaments last year.

“I’m playing here this week because it’s in Texas, and I’m always going to play in my home state,” Palmer, who attended Texas A&M and lives in Colleyville, just outside Forth Worth, told GOLF.com. “But unfortunately, it’s all about money for some players. What I love about the game is to compete, and the money is just a bonus. I know I’m lucky to be out here, but that’s not the way it is now.”

Of the new schedule, Palmer added: “It’s more catering to a handful of top players, and you have tournaments suffering like this one. If we keep this up, you’re going to have a lot of discontented tournaments and tournament directors that are going to suffer year to year.”

Valero Texas Open executive director Larson Segerdahl acknowledged some of those challenges, telling GOLF.com, “We came into 2023 with eyes wide open with the difficulties we would have to face with a compressed schedule for elevated events. We certainly need more clarity on what 2024 is going to look like.” 

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Of the dearth of marquee players at his event this week, Segerdahl said, “We hope and feel this will be a one-off for us.”

Spieth, who won the Texas Open in 2021 and until this year had played every Texas Open since 2018, said at the Match Play last week that it’s getting harder than ever to pick which tournaments to enter. You can understand players passing on this week when it’s preceded by a designated event and then followed by the Masters and yet another designated event, the RBC Heritage.

“I played at Tampa (Valspar) this year and that was a hard course and this (Austin Country Club) is hard and so is San Antonio,” Spieth said. “Then you have the Masters, and Hilton Head is designated.

“I just wanted to see what it was like to not play the week before the Masters to go early to take my brother to go play, and just rest before the tournament. The designated tournaments have changed a lot of things out here.”

Further complicating matters for the Texas Open is that the well-funded Houston Open, which was bumped to a less desirable fall date in 2019, is widely expected to take Austin’s spot on the ’24 schedule. Giles Kibbe, president of the Astros Golf Foundation, which operates the tournament, told GOLF.com last fall the tournament has the means to raise the $20 million purse required for designated tournaments this year.

Sergerdahl said Texas Open title sponsor Valero is eager to have a similar conversation with the Tour about raising its own payout.

“We need so much more information on what that would include,” Sergerdahl said. “It’s something we certainly want to pursue.”

Even for some players in the field this week, the primary motivation for playing is less about going home with the cowboy boots awarded to the victor than it is the opportunity to snag the last Masters invite. 

“If I made the quarterfinals at the Match Play last week and made the Masters, there is no chance I would be here,” Rickie Fowler said. “I would be taking the week off.”

Said Adam Schenk, who has played in five Texas Opens, “This is kind of like a big Monday qualifier for the Masters next week, so we’ll see what happens.” 

Indeed, we will. 

New details came to light on the ’24 Tour schedule earlier this week. You can read about the changes here

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Art Stricklin