Pick a golfer, any golfer, in the field for this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson at the Four Seasons Resort.
Unless he is a PGA Tour rookie, chances are good that he’ll have some poignant memories of the tournament namesake or the venue that will crown the Nelson champion for the 35th and final time in Sunday’s final round.
Sergio Garcia, the defending Nelson champion and only golfer to collect multiple trophies during the event’s tenure at the TPC Las Colinas (2016, 2004), will miss playing the course in future seasons because Irving has been the backdrop to so many of his best memories as a tour competitor.
Garcia, 37, made his professional debut at the 1999 Nelson and finished third. He will begin Thursday’s opening round as both the defending Nelson champion and the reigning Masters champion.
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“I’m going to be sad to leave here,” said Garcia, who also stays at the resort’s hotel during tournament week and frequents the indoor fitness facilities (tennis, basketball, gym) and pool after rounds. “This is where I started my career on the PGA Tour. To be able to call myself a two-time Byron Nelson champion is spectacular. … A little piece of my heart is always going to stay here. It’s always going to have something extra special in me, this golf course.”
Adding a third title in Irving before the tournament moves next year to Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas would be particularly poignant to Garcia, who has enjoyed a warm relationship with Nelson and his widow, Peggy. After last year’s playoff victory, Garcia said Peggy Nelson surmised that her late husband “was looking down with a big smile” as he celebrated.
Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, reigning champion at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational in Fort Worth, shares similar thoughts. The venue served as the site for his PGA Tour debut in 2010. As a 16-year-old amateur, Spieth finished 16th while competing on a sponsor’s exemption at a course he frequented as a Nelson spectator. During those rounds, he’d often stare at the list of tournament champions posted near Nelson’s statue by the first tee.
“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,” said Spieth, a two-time major champion who will be making his seventh Nelson appearance. “This is a very special place for our family and friends.”
Spieth, 23, called it “very bittersweet” to think this will be his last opportunity to compete at the Four Seasons. But he plans to use it as motivation.
“I’m looking forward to creating my best memories yet this week,” Spieth said.
The same holds true for multiple players making their final competitive treks around a venue that has carved out a unique legacy for itself in 35 years as a PGA Tour stop. The venue has seen:
▪ The height of “Tigermania,” where Tiger Woods returned to competition after his record-setting, 12-stroke triumph at the 1997 Masters and prevailed again, as a 21-year-old, in Irving.
▪ The end of Woods’ record streak of 142 consecutive cuts made at PGA Tour events. Woods fell short with a bogey on his 36th hole at the 2005 tournament, ending a streak that began in 1998 and allowed Woods to break the mark previously held by Nelson (113). Woods has not returned to the Nelson since missing the cut in 2005.
▪ A 1994 title for Neal Lancaster in a six-man playoff after torrential rains shortened the event to 36 holes and caused pundits to dub it the “Half Nelson.”
▪ A 1995 title for Ernie Els marked by his course-record 61 at Cottonwood Valley (the resort’s second course) in the first year that organizers used a two-course format before returning to a TPC-only format in 2008.
▪ Nelson’s regular presence at the 18th hole to greet competitors after rounds until his death in September 2006.
Dustin Johnson, the world’s top-ranked golfer, owns the best scoring average at TPC Las Colinas (68.54) of any player in this week’s field and ranks second to Woods (67.91) in tournament history. He’s not looking forward to changing venues next season.
“This course, I feel like, sets up for me. I’ve liked it ever since the first time I came here,” Johnson said.
Ian Poulter, whose best finish in Irving was a tie for third in 2007, praised the venue but believes he has unfinished business.
“It would be nice to hold the trophy here Sunday night and take it to a different place next year,” Poulter said.
AT&T Byron Nelson
Thursday-Sunday, Four Seasons Resort, Irving
3 p.m. Thursday, Golf Channel