Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Welcome to the neighborhood: It's Colonial week

      Each May, our neighborhood turns into a fortress. Fences are put up, tents are pitched, roads are closed, and we are practically in lockdown mode.
      It's not as bad as you might think. In fact, it's quite good.
      The PGA Tour is back at Colonial Country Club, which is just across the Trinity River from where we live. Fort Worth has much going for it, and the tournament at Colonial -- note how I am avoiding the corporate name -- is one of the city's biggest assets.
      It is one of the PGA Tour's biggest assets, in my opinion. Other than the Masters at Augusta National, no tournament on tour has been played on the same course annually as long as Colonial. When you see it describes as "historic" Colonial, it's true.
       It is a beautiful old course, a beautiful setting, built into the TCU-area neighborhood, next to the river, a course designed with lots of dogleg fairways and challenging carries over water, and shorter by today's standards (only two par-5s). So the long-drive bombers have to compromise and don't always prevail.
      And we are right here. The fourth green at Colonial -- the dastardly tough 247-yard par-3 hole which has never been aced in tournament history -- is about 100 yards (if that much) from the apartments where we live.
      Only a river, and a bridge, is between us and the golf tournament. Oh, and a ticket to get in the place. I usually manage to find one.
      We have lived in the Colonial neighborhood for nine years, and tournament week is exciting ... and it can be a traffic mess. But starting last year, the PGA Tour and Colonial officials -- with security in mind -- rearranged access to the course.
      The main entrance to the course, which used to be at either the front of Colonial or on Colonial Drive near the second-hole tee box and first green, now is just down the street from us.
      The open field across the street from the fourth fairway/green now is the site of Frost Park, and a huge stage-like base on which is built the "entry" pavilion. I knew tournament time was nearing when they began construction about five weeks ago.
      This week, they close off the street here at the bridge. Fans cross the street from the pavilion to enter the course midway down the No. 4 fairway.
      So, from there, it is quite a walk to either the No. 1 or No. 10 tee boxes, where players begin their Thursday-Friday rounds. But for me, it's a shortcut for walking all the around the fence to the previous entry spot.
      Besides, I don't mind the walk. I walk for exercise just about every day and go past No. 4 several times a week, and I have walked the Colonial course regularly during most of the nine tournaments since we've lived here. (Had to miss a year or two because of conflicts, family matters.)
      Love walking the course. Watching golf isn't easy, but it is easier if you prefer to sit at one hole -- or two, if it's within range of vision -- and watch all the groups come through.     
David Toms' children celebrate with him after his
2011 victory at Colonial (Getty Images photo)
      I'd rather follow a group all the way around, and enjoy all the course. It gets harder as we get older, but I can find the shortcuts, such as not walking the length of the 611-yard, par 5 No. 11 ... unless my guy is in contention and I need to take a closer look.
      The people who know me know that my guy -- years ago -- was Hal Sutton. Followed him in many a round here, in Memphis, in Shreveport (obviously not as part of the PGA Tour), even in Honolulu, and at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
       My guy now is David Toms, like Hal a resident of Shreveport. I don't know David personally, although we've met and I've written about him. I do have long-ago connections with his father and stepmother, and I know several of his friends.  
       I have followed David's rounds here every year I've been, and my favorite Colonial was four years ago when he finally (finally) won this tournament.
       He had been close several times, and he often has said it is one of his favorite courses and tournaments. One reason is the course suits his game; he's not among the long drivers on Tour but one of the best iron players.
       Another reason: He always has a strong following here, LSU fans and people from North Louisiana who make the drive over or the Metroplex residents with Louisiana/LSU ties who like to see him play.
       I'm in that group, and one of the reasons I so enjoy the Colonial crowds is there are always longtime friends I see there.
       We can only hope it will be as much fun as it was in 2011 when David posted his 13th career PGA Tour victory -- and a thrilling one, considering his wife and children were there and that he had met with disaster the week before, losing The Players Championship in playoff with K.J. Choi after leading most of the day. That had been his sixth runner-up finish since his previous victory (in 2006).
       In the first two rounds in 2011, David was on target -- 8-under 62 both days. I had to miss Saturday's round (out-of-town trip) and David faltered to a 4-over 74.
       On Sunday, as we were all nervous all day, he came through beautifully with a 3-under 67 and a one-shot victory. So he was 19 under for the three days I was there. Dang right, I was his good-luck charm (don't tell me otherwise).
       It was almost as much fun last year. After a 72 on Thursday, he shot 66-65 and we had that nervous feeling again Sunday. He had the lead at 9 under when he went to No. 10, but faltered and finished two shots behind Adam Scott (playoff winner) and Jason Dufner.
        Undaunted, I plan to follow David to another victory this week.
        I am not a golfer, never have been, never covered a golf tournament until I was in college, rarely had been to a golf course. But I always liked watching the big tournaments on TV, watching Arnie and Jack and the other greats and non-greats.
        My appreciation for the game -- and its difficulty -- has grown over the years. This observation will be no surprise to the millions who have played (or tried to play). I've seen some of my friends hack their way around the course. I've seen some who can really play.
        Still, what I know about the game -- technically -- would not fill the cup on the No. 4 green at Colonial. I do know some tournament history and know some of the players, and I have been on coverage teams for the Colonial and The Players Championship.
        Because we lived in the Jacksonville area and I worked for The Florida Times-Union for a half decade, I got to see some great golf on what I think is an outstanding and challenging course, the Stadium Course at PGA Tour headquarters. 
        Loved seeing the players up close, interviewing some of them and writing what little I could contribute. Even Greg Norman -- Bea and I were such fans, and he let us down quite a few times -- dominated The Players one year.
Three symbols of victory at Colonial: The Marvin Leonard
trophy, the plaid jacket ... and David Toms. (PGA.com photo)
        I usually try to watch The Players on TV, and it was great theater two weeks ago when the "overrated" Rickie Fowler won in a playoff (and birdied No. 17 three times on Sunday ... wow).
        Love that course, although I don't especially love the island hole, No. 17.
        If you made me choose between the Stadium Course and Colonial as my favorite, I'd have to split the vote. How's that for being decisive? I do think that getting around Colonial might be a bit easier than the hills and contours of TPC; both are easier than walking Augusta National.
        What I love most, though, is being near the golfers, and the caddies, and the media ... and the crowds. It's a fine place for people watching, and seeing old friends. 
         At Colonial, I particularly enjoy watching players take on the "Horrible Horseshoe," Nos. 3-4-5, as tough a three-hole stretch as any on Tour (similar to Nos. 16-17-18 at the TPC Stadium Course). I also enjoy all the par-3s here -- the long No. 4, then 8, 13 and 16 (the last two with carries over water, just as on Nos. 9 and 18). 
         I also know to stay away from No. 13 -- The Party Hole -- on Saturday and Sunday when crowds are large and especially rowdy there (it's bad enough on Thursday and Friday).
         That was the scene of the "caddy races," when bets were placed on which caddy will step on the green first. It was silly and wild, and the PGA Tour finally put a ban on them.
         Still, I want no part of No. 13. I'll watch from a distance, thank you. But if David Toms is playing well, and in contention, I might pay closer attention. Let's hope that's the case.
         The neighborhood is rocking, and I'm starting my walk toward to Colonial. I expect it will be a fun week.             

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