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A tournament with Phil brightens Colonial's outlook

By now, the clever folks who generate the amusing, golf-themed commercials for Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts could wallpaper their offices with favorable reviews from regional and national publications.

A sneak preview of their latest efforts, offered during Monday’s media day at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, suggests the upcoming A Meeting With Phil series may be funnier than last year’s debut efforts moderated by CBS golf analyst/wiseguy David Feherty.

But the folks at Crowne Plaza, who serve as title sponsor of Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour event, seek more for their millions than a few memorable one-liners from their on-air talent during golf telecasts. They want big TV ratings to enhance their brand in a global marketplace.

That didn’t happen during last year’s Colonial. Weeklong rains prompted endless weather delays, forcing networks to air ratings-killing file footage instead of showing live golf. A field that included only one of the world’s top 10 golfers, Jim Furyk, did not help, either.

But instead of dwelling on what did not work, the Crowne Plaza folks devised ways — in concert with Colonial Country Club officials — to enhance the event. The results, thus far, have been encouraging.

By building this year’s marketing campaign around Phil Mickelson, the No. 2 player in the world golf rankings, the Crowne Plaza folks opened the door for Lefty’s return to Fort Worth. As things stand, he’ll be joined during the May 22-25 tournament by three other top-10 golfers (Furyk, K.J. Choi and defending champ Rory Sabbatini, a Fort Worth resident).

Don’t be surprised if Steve Stricker, the No. 4 player in the world rankings, joins the list of confirmed competitors in the near future. All of that brightens the outlook of Kevin Kowalski, Crowne Plaza’s senior vice president for worldwide brand management.

“We’ve got a better field. We’ve got a relationship with the No. 2 golfer in the world that we’re excited about … [a player] that we think will represent us really well,” Kowalski said. “I think we’re kind of firing on all cylinders now.”

From a Colonial perspective, it’s essential to keep the title sponsor in an upbeat mood. The tournament has had four title sponsors in the last 14 years and, in an ideal world, club members would embrace more stability in that department. The deal runs through 2012 and the best way to lay the groundwork for an extension is to provide lots of buzz during tournament week on an annual basis.

Circumstances prevented that last year. But this year, two months before the first tee shot, Kowalski said he senses a jolt of energy surrounding the event that should “bring it up to the next level. And we’re happy about that.”

Although there will be several fresh wrinkles during tournament week, including a “green gate” charitable program for fans who leave their cars at home, the biggest change will be Mickelson’s return to Hogan’s Alley. After watching Lefty ham it up during last week’s commercial shoots in San Diego, Crowne Plaza officials are thrilled with their latest corporate asset.

“He’s great for our brand when you think about the hospitality industry,” said Gina LaBarre, Crowne Plaza’s vice president for brand management. “I think it’s a huge deal for us to have Phil associated with this tournament. People love him. … Obviously, we’re hoping that we’ll see a significant increase in the ratings of the tournament, which is all designed to help drive awareness for our brand.”

That, in a nutshell, is why a corporate sponsor lays out the big bucks to attach its name to a PGA Tour event. After a soggy, slow start to their six-year relationship as corporate partners, things appear to be looking up — in a big way — for Crowne Plaza and Colonial in 2008. In LaBarre’s estimation, there is more than just Mickelson involved.

“The Colonial people … have been really fantastic,” LaBarre said. “They have been wonderful partners. I think they’re doing a fantastic job and I look forward to a long relationship with them.”

For local golf fans, that sounds like a winning proposition.


“He basically wants me … to be the ‘Big Easy’ again. I’ve been a little bit uptight and a little grumpy. He’s been trying to get me to relax a little bit more [because] that’s when I play my best.”— Ernie Els, on advice he received last week from sports psychologist Bob Rotella before winning his first PGA Tour event in four years at The Honda Classic.


0 Previous appearances by Sandy Lyle in Champions Tour events. The 1988 Masters champ, who turned 50 on Feb. 9, will make his debut at this week’s Toshiba Classic.

1 Golfer on the Champions Tour averaging more than 300 yards in driving distance (Eduardo Romero, 300.4 avg.).

2 Consecutive finishes in the top 12 at LPGA Tour events by Saginaw resident Angela Stanford, boosting her to ninth on the season money list ($79,566).

9 Golfers on the PGA Tour averaging more than 300 yards in driving distance, topped by Bubba Watson (316.4 avg.).

29 Spots climbed on this week’s PGA Tour money list by Fort Worth resident J.J. Henry, who posted his best finish of the season (T-30) in Sunday’s final round at The Honda Classic.

299.7Average driving distance of Tag Ridings, a Roanoke resident who ranks 10th among PGA Tour participants.


How exempt players with Fort Worth-area connections (residents or golfers from Fort Worth area high schools or colleges) are faring on the PGA, Champions, LPGA, Nationwide and Duramed Futures tours this season. Listed is the official earnings and where it ranks on the money list:


Rory Sabbatini — $1,053,480 (11)

Ben Crane — $468,929 (30)

Chad Campbell — $462,452 (33)

Tag Ridings — $209,878 (79)

J.J. Henry — $57,255 (150)

Todd Hamilton — $46,800 (158)

Stephen Leaney — $38,100 (170)

Brandt Jobe — $36,766 (173)

Mark Brooks — $17,871 (198)


Angela Stanford — $79,566 (9)

Heather Young — $18,919 (50)


No earnings yet.


D.J. Brigman — $71,785 (7)

Greg Chalmers — $44,668 (12)

Kelly Grunewald — $14,499 (47)

Hunter Haas — $13,112 (53)

J.J. Killeen — $7,002 (75)


First event is March 14-16.