Where have all the Texans gone?

Originally Published: May 14, 2006
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Congratulations, Omar Uresti.

No, the longtime PGA Tour veteran didn't earn his first victory this week, but with four rounds in the 60s and a share of third place, he claimed low Texan honors at the Byron Nelson Championship.

Of course, that title signified much more for previous generations of Lone Star State players. With the tour in the middle of its annual two-week jaunt to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Weekly 18 examines the decline of the elite Texas golfer.

1.
Where have all the Texans gone?

Chad Campbell owns three career PGA Tour victories. He's currently ranked sixth on the money list. And if there's a ranking of best players without a major championship title, he's creeping closer to the top every day. In short, the guy's a pretty solid professional golfer.

Chad Campbell
At 17th in the World Ranking, Campbell is the top Texas native around.

Same goes for tour veterans Scott Verplank, Bart Bryant and Justin Leonard. Good players, but hardly Hall of Fame talents.

This quartet of Texans -- the only four Lone Star State natives ranked in the world's top 50 -- are the best Texas has to offer these days. As a whole, however, they don't exactly conjure up memories of Hogan, Nelson, Demaret, Trevino, Kite and Crenshaw, to name a handful of major championship winners from the state.

There are currently 18 native Texans with full or partial PGA Tour status -- many more have taken up residency in the state -- but they own only one victory between them this season (Campbell's triumph at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic). That's four fewer than the win totals of Australia and California and tied with such non-traditional golfing hotbeds as Pennsylvania and Washington.

All of which begs the question: What has happened to the great Texas golfers?

The easiest answer, perhaps, is to simply declare that greater competition has tempered the selection process. With the PGA Tour becoming more of a global league -- witness the influx of Australians and South Africans over the past few years -- the tour's top players are indeed the world's top players, making it tougher for any one state or region to assert itself.

The tour's evolution has equated to regression for Texans.

But let's look a little deeper into the situation. Another theory states that many Texas-bred golfers have floundered in the new grip-it-and-rip-it setups of most PGA Tour venues because their backgrounds have preached low, accurate shots over high, booming ones. Throughout the state's windy plains, keeping the ball close to the ground has always been an optimal pursuit, eliminating the extra variable of gusts and breezes.

While such strategy explains why players like Leonard and Texas transplant Todd Hamilton have earned British Open titles in recent years, it also helps to illustrate the difference between links courses overseas and those used throughout the season on tour. As further evidence, only two native Texans (Hank Kuehne and Harrison Frazar) ranked in the top 50 in driving distance entering the Byron Nelson.

And then there's this idea: It's all cyclical. While Texas natives are hardly dominating the golfing landscape right now, maybe it's only a matter of time until the next Hogan or Nelson (or at the very least, Crenshaw or Kite) leaps onto the scene.

For a state with such a rich golf tradition, let's hope this is the case.

2.
All Wett

Here's everything we know about Brett Wetterich: He's 32, from Cincinnati, hits the ball a looonnnnggggg way, and he'll now have his name on a locker at Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes Championships in January. Wetterich, who ranks fourth on tour in driving distance at 309.3 yards per thwack, looked cool, calm and collected in shooting a final-round 68 to claim the Nelson title.

It's been a long journey. After finishing his fourth full season outside the top 125 last year, Wetterich went back to Qualifying School and regained full status for the current campaign. For those of us who didn't see this victory coming, perhaps we just weren't looking closely enough. Prior to missing the cut at last week's Wachovia Championship, Wetterich was T-4 at the Zurich Classic and T-6 at the Houston Open.

3.
Runner-up regular

Trevor Immelman has drawn the ire of some players for being named to the International side on last year's Presidents Cup team and others for a now-defunct PGA Tour rule that allows a full-year exemption for team members. Perhaps those same players have been snickering a bit while watching Immelman lose each of the last two events on the final hole -- Jim Furyk defeated him in a playoff at the Wachovia and Wetterich bested him by one at the Nelson -- but it's the 26-year-old South African who will likely have the last laugh. Immelman, whose father Johan is the commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in his native country, has shown he's one of the brighter young stars on tour. Expect that elusive first victory to come sooner rather than later.

4.
Ober time

Was it a case of counting his chickens before they hatched? Just seconds after knocking his approach shot to within 12 feet on his final hole of the second round, Arron Oberholser was caught by TV cameras with a big smile on his face, saying, "That's for 59, baby. That's for 59 right there." Interesting comments from a guy known as confident (some might call it "cocky") within PGA Tour circles. With the magic number dancing in his head, Oberholser missed the birdie putt, finishing with a pretty respectable 10-under 60.

5.
Nifty 60

Despite failing to become the fourth player to shoot 59 in an official PGA Tour event -- Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and David Duval are the only ones to reach the elusive goal; in addition, Annika Sorenstam shot 59 in an LPGA tournament, Phil Mickelson equaled the number in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, and Shigeki Maruyama and Jason Bohn each bested the score by 1 stroke in U.S. Open qualifying and a Canadian Tour event, respectively -- it wasn't all bad news for Oberholser. His 60 broke the Cottonwood Valley course record of 61 set by Ernie Els in 1995 and equaled by Tiger Woods in 1999 and tied the mark for best score on tour this season, earlier set by Pat Perez in the first round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

6.
Putter clutter

Putting may be the most important component to a professional golfer's game, but putters? Completely overrated. Two weeks ago, Joe Ogilvie used a 3-iron on the greens for six straight holes at the Zurich Classic, later saying, "I actually putted decently." (Why a 3-iron? "I use a 3-iron as a drill back home in Austin. My teacher and I do that just to kind of keep my hands going through the ball longer. All else was failing, so … I decided to take the drills to the golf course.") At the Nelson, another player went sans putter, though not by choice. Carlos Franco broke his flat stick on the front nine during the first round and elected to putt with his driver for the remainder of the day. He made a few lengthy putts -- or were they drives? -- en route to a 1-over 71.

7.
Average Joe?

Speaking of Ogilvie, he likely wasn't enthralled with his T-21 finish this week -- the Austin, Texas, resident was T-4 entering the final round, but shot a 4-over 74 -- though it may be a sign of better days ahead. Entering the Nelson, Ogilvie had missed the cut in seven of 14 events, but had reached the weekend in only three of his previous 10 starts. That includes last week's Wachovia Championship, where he finished T-26 despite being cited for DWI on the Wednesday of that week.

8.
Kenny or can't he?

Kenny Perry had a feeling he wouldn't contend at the Byron Nelson. Coming off knee surgery that forced him to miss two months of action, the tour veteran said he was "80 percent" healthy entering the week, though his results disproved that, as he shot 71-69-69-69 to finish T-34. Why the gloomy outlook beforehand? Perry had been preparing his comeback by practicing with son Justin's Western Kentucky University team … and losing. "I played with them a little last week and they're all hitting it 30 yards by me," Perry said on Wednesday. "My son is even outhitting me now. I was looking at Justin saying, 'You're not longer than me, there's no way.' I've got to be hitting on one leg here or something. He has really increased his club head speed, and it's really been fun they've been beating on me. I played 54 holes and they just killed me. … I realized right then I was in trouble a little bit, and I knew I had a long way to go to get back to where I was."

9.
Purdy wet

It's not the most unusual sight to see a PGA Tour player wading knee-deep into a water hazard to hit a shot rather than take an unplayable lie. But they usually take their spikes and socks off first. CBS cameras caught defending champion Ted Purdy standing in the lake down the left side of the 18th hole on Sunday, hitting an approach shot to about 25 feet, then stepping out of the hazard with his feet still ensconced. No doubt he figured there was only a putt or two left to hit, so why bother with removing -- and restoring -- his footwear. Unfortunately for Purdy, the soaked garments didn't help his short game, as he 3-putted to finish with a final-round 75.

10.
Bubba … ugh

Nelson galleries were deprived of seeing the longest hitter in golf this week, even though Bubba Watson had every intention of playing the event. According to a PGA Tour release, Watson had to withdraw when his caddie failed to show up at the first tee. Even worse? His caddie had the golf bag with him, too.

11.
Ready for Moore?

Many fans have been wondering of the whereabouts of can't-miss prospect Ryan Moore, who earned his PGA Tour card for this season in limited action last year. After a subpar start to 2006 -- Moore made only two cuts in five starts, earning $29,028 -- he was diagnosed with a broken hamate bone in his left hand. The former UNLV star underwent surgery following the Bay Hill Invitational and hasn't played since then, which includes missing The Masters after a T-13 finish as an amateur in '05. "It is a relief to finally understand the cause of the pain that I had been experiencing since last summer and have it dealt with and behind me," Moore said this week. And the injury is behind him indeed, as he'll make his sixth start of the season at this week's Colonial.

12.
Webb of intrigue

If you haven't followed Karrie Webb's decline into mediocrity and subsequent climb back to stardom this season, well, think David Duval. Webb was the last woman before Sorenstam to hold the title of world's best player, winning six major championships in the four-year span from 1999-2002, and though her drop-off wasn't as dramatic as that of Duval, she was mired in a lengthy slump, failing to win last year for the first season in her LPGA career while seeing her scoring average soar to almost a full stroke worse than ever before. Now it appears the Hall of Famer is back and, perhaps, better than ever. Webb proved last month's Kraft Nabisco victory was no fluke with an incredibly solid 7-shot win at this week's Michelob Ultra Open. While most experts expected the tour's young guns to take aim at Sorenstam this year, the 31-year-old Webb (along with Lorena Ochoa, 24) is proving to be her stiffest competition.

13.
Ultra disappointment

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Sorenstam's impressive streak that was snapped at Kingsmill this week. Annika shot 73-73 to miss the cut for only the second time since June 1999. Yup, that's two missed cuts in 143 events. Remove major championships from that equation and the game's top-ranked player failed to reach the weekend for the first time in 198 events, dating back to the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic in July 1994. Years from now, when discussions abound about what made Sorenstam (as well as Tiger Woods on the men's side) so tough to beat, one can examine numbers like these and deduce that it was her determination to never give up on the course.

14.
Adding fuel to the fire

As if there wasn't already enough of a natural rivalry between teen phenoms Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel, check out what the latter had to say about the former making the cut at last week's SK Telecom Open, a men's professional event in South Korea: "I'm sure there are many girls that could go out there and make a cut or so in the men's event. They just don't wish to do that." Though the not-so-subtle jabs and pokes between the two -- more often than not provoked by Pressel, not Wie -- may not exactly be what the LPGA Tour is seeking from two of its young stars (yes, we know Wie isn't an LPGA member, but close enough, right?), in a sport that has always preached manners and patience above speaking one's mind, it's refreshing to hear. One thing is clear: 30-40 years from now, when she's finally ready to hang up the spikes after about eight major championship titles, Pressel is going to make one heck of a controversial TV analyst.

15.
Losing bet

According to the European Tour's official Web site, British Masters third-round leaders Paul Casey and Michael Campbell had a friendly little wager on Sunday's final round. Casey led his good friend by 2 strokes entering the day and though neither would provide details of the deal -- "Don't worry about it," Campbell said prior to the final round. "It's a personal thing between myself and Paul." -- it's a good bet that neither one was a big winner. Casey shot 76 and Campbell totaled 74 as the two players shared fifth place, 2 shots behind champion Johan Edfors.

16.
Simons say

What's up with the abundance of English players named Simon these days? Simon Hurd finished in second place at this weekend's Asian Masters, while Simon Griffiths grabbed a share of fourth. Meanwhile, Simon Wakefield was T-27 at the British Masters, earning low Simon honors over Messrs. Dyson and Khan, who both also made the cut. For the record, Dyson is top Simon overall, currently placing 128th in the World Ranking.

17.
Ray of hope

The Villages -- yes, the same community that brings us those hauntingly infectious commercials during PGA Tour telecasts -- hosted a tournament called the Shoot Your Age Championship last week. With each player's age acting as par, 87-year-old Leo Luken won the event by shooting an 81. Meanwhile, Raymond Floyd attempted to host his own version of such a tournament on Sunday, as the 63-year-old shot 63 in the final round of the Champions Tour's Boeing Championship. "It's the first time that I've ever shot my age and that's very special," Floyd said. He came up 1 shot short of winner Bobby Wadkins, but in vying for his first senior victory since 2000, the four-time major champion proved he can still be very competitive.

18.
Quote of the week

"Me, myself and I. That's a good threesome."
-- Rory Sabbatini, who's often had a cantankerous relationship with fellow touring pros, on his ideal playing partners.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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