Devil Ball Golf

HP Byron Nelson Championship still missing big names

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

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IRVING, Texas - Walking down the line and taking notice of the players hitting balls on the TPC Four Seasons driving range, you get a clear picture of the kind of struggle the HP Byron Nelson Championship is dealing with. Of the 20-plus players on the range on a balmy Tuesday, only one of them is currently ranked inside the top 25 on the PGA Tour Money List and top 15 in the World Rankings.

That player would be Dustin Johnson, the headliner at this week's event, and the only guy -- outside of Matt Kuchar and local high school golfer Jordan Spieth -- that seems to have people excited about a tournament that players used to circle on their calendar each year. Aside from Johnson, the rest is a hodge-podge of rookies and veteran players that most golf fans couldn't name.

The decline of the tournament, however, hasn't stopped the tournament's marketing and charity from remaining top-notch. Both are still among the best on tour, with the tournament raising more money for charity than any event on the schedule. But even with other areas thriving, it's clear there's something missing.

Ever since the legendary Byron Nelson passed away in 2006, the tournament has struggled to bring the big names back to one of the tour's nicest stops. With the Four Seasons resort hosting players and their families for the week, you quickly see why pros continually rave about the accommodations.

But a tournament isn't based solely on the quality of a hotel room; it's based on the course. Even though the tournament decided to drop Cottonwood Valley Golf Course from the event -- the event used to be played on two courses for the first two days -- and bring in D.A. Weibring to give the TPC course a facelift, it still remains a track that players don't care for.

"I don't like it tee to green," Hunter Mahan said at the Colonial. "I don't like the way the fairways are shaped. It's hard to hit a fairway for me. I don't want to rip it up or rip up the tournament, but it's a place where I don't play well, it doesn't suit me, it's a pain in the butt to play."

It just so happens that Mahan only lives 15 miles from the course, making this week a relative home game for the local resident. But he instead decided to skip the event. He's not the only one, as a number of players pulled out on Tuesday, including Angel Cabrera, Brandt Snedeker, Johnson Wagner, Marc Turnesa, and Spencer Levin.

To add insult to injury, Adam Scott, the 2008 Nelson champion, decided to skip the event, but not before playing the previous week at Colonial in Fort Worth, an event the Aussie has never won.

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The field does include major champions, but the most recent is 2004 PGA Championship winner Vijay Singh; 40 of the top 50 in the World Rankings also decided to skip the event, a telling sign that the players just aren't excited about the event like they were in years past, when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and other big names showed up in droves to honor Byron Nelson and his tournament.

It's tough to watch one of the tour's longest running events struggle to draw marquee players. If anything, it's another reason why tour officials and players should really consider getting together again and hammering out a one-in-four plan that would help tournaments, like the Nelson, bring in some big names that get the fans excited.

Events like this deserve a chance to thrive. It's just a shame that so long as they play on a course that's criticized by the players, the event will continue to have a field that's devoid of the star power that used to be commonplace at the Nelson.

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