Old stomp­ing grounds

Nel­son fi­nale on course where Masters champs played as teens

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY STEPHEN HAWKINS

Ser­gio Gar­cia and Jor­dan Spi­eth were teenagers play­ing at By­ron Nel­son’s tour­na­ment be­fore they be­came Masters cham­pi­ons.

Gar­cia, now the reign­ing Masters win­ner and de­fend­ing Nel­son champ, was only 19 when he shot a 62 in his first round as a pro at the 1999 Nel­son. Spi­eth was a baby-faced 16-year-old high school ju­nior when he teed off as an am­a­teur in 2010. He wound up tied for 16th in the home­town PGA Tour event he had reg­u­larly at­tended with his dad.

“My first tee shot that I hit out here is tough to beat,” said Spi­eth, now the sixth-ranked player in the world.

This week’s Nel­son will be the last at TPC Four Sea­sons, end­ing the tour­na­ment’s 35-year run in Irv­ing, Texas. The new links-style Trin­ity For­est Golf Club south of down­town Dal­las be­comes the Nel­son’s host next year.

“Ob­vi­ously I’m go­ing to be sad to leave here,” Gar­cia said. “A lit­tle piece of heart is al­ways go­ing to stay here no mat­ter where we go.”

Gar­cia beat Brooks Koepka in a play­off last year to be­come the first two-time win­ner since Irv­ing be­came the Nel­son’s home in 1983. Spi­eth’s best fin­ish is still his de­but in 2010, two years be­fore turn­ing pro.

Be­fore Nel­son died in 2006 at age 94, he was a con­stant pres­ence at the tour­na­ment with a seat at the 18th green, there to greet play­ers fin­ish­ing their rounds.

“My heart will al­ways be here, and By­ron’s too,” Nel­son’s widow, Peggy, said dur­ing an open­ing cer­e­mony this week in the shadow of his statue near the first tee.

The tour­na­ment’s name­sake saw Gar­cia tie for third in 1999, and five years later helped present the tro­phy af­ter Gar­cia won there the first time.

The tour­na­ment’s roots go back to 1944 as the Texas Vic­tory Open, when Nel­son won at Lake­wood Coun­try Club, a year be­fore his mes­mer­iz­ing streak of win­ning 11 PGA tour­na­ments in a row. Sam Snead won the Dal­las event in 1945, and Ben Ho­gan won in 1946.

In 1968, the tour­na­ment be­came the first named af­ter a PGA Tour player and has since be­come the tour’s big­gest char­ity fundraiser. About $150 mil­lion has been raised through the years for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that an­nu­ally serves 6,000 chil­dren and fam­ily mem­bers through ed­u­ca­tion and men­tal health pro­grams. Peggy Nel­son said the high­light for her hus­band each year was to watch “the boys” play. She said it was dif­fi­cult to think about the tour­na­ment not be­ing played there.

The tour­na­ment used two cour­ses from 1993-2007. All week­end rounds were on the TPC course af­ter play­ers had one of their first two rounds across the street. The Cot­ton­wood Val­ley course with a Texas-shaped first green was where Gar­cia shot that mem­o­rable 62.

Tiger Woods won the 1997 Nel­son in his first tour­na­ment af­ter win­ning his first ma­jor at the Masters a month ear­lier. He ar­rived at the TPC Four Sea­sons in 2001 as the reign­ing cham­pion of all four ma­jors — the U.S. Open, the Bri­tish Open, the PGA Cham­pi­onship and the Masters.

In 2005, the last time Woods played the Nel­son, he missed the cut to end his record of 142 con­sec­u­tive cuts made over seven years. He missed a 15foot par putt on the 18th hole at Cot­ton­wood Val­ley.

Spi­eth, still only 23, has nine ca­reer vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open. Now he has only one more chance to win on the course where he first played a PGA Tour event, and where he was when he missed his high school grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in 2011 af­ter mak­ing the cut again.

“Ob­vi­ously fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries and look­ing for­ward to cre­at­ing new ones this week, and hope­fully the best ones yet,” Spi­eth said. “I’d re­ally like to get my name there by By­ron’s statue af­ter com­ing out and look­ing at all those names for so many years.”

In this May 2010 file photo, fans watch as Jor­dan Spi­eth, 16, a ju­nior at a Dal­las high school, hits off the 10th tee to start his day dur­ing the first round of the By­ron Nel­son Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment in Irv­ing, Texas.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.