Recent drought-busting rains in North Texas have filled reservoirs, rivers and lakes to capacity and beyond. Soggy ground conditions rule most local landscapes.
Maintenance crews at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial are working long hours to make the layout for this week’s PGA Tour event in Fort Worth an exception to that rule. But Mother Nature has mixed in lots of challenges, with more than 7 inches of rain saturating the course over the past two weeks and chances for additional precipitation in long-range forecasts every day during tournament week.
Without question, Colonial’s fairways and greens will not play firm and fast for competitors in Thursday’s opening round. Those conditions probably will not surface during the tournament. But golfers differ about whether the soft conditions will trigger an all-out assault on Colonial’s tournament scoring records, most of which were set during events marked by course-softening rains.
Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, the reigning Masters champion, expects golfers to bag more birdies than usual at Colonial this week.
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“I would imagine so,” Spieth said. “I think it’s going to be easier to hit fairways because one of the harder parts when this place is firm and fast is holding the fairway. I think that the scores, if it’s moist, they’ll be lower. I don’t know about record-setting.”
What is known is that most of Colonial’s record-setting scores were posted at events marked by rainy conditions. That is true for Zach Johnson’s tournament-record total of 21-under par (259), set in 2010, as well as the 54-hole mark held by Kenny Perry (18 under, 2005) and the 36-hole standard set by David Toms (16 under, 2011). Of the six golfers who share the Colonial course record of 61, the majority did so on days that featured soft, optimum conditions.
Cody Gribble, a first-time Colonial competitor, envisions similar conditions this week.
“Yeah, it’s definitely scoreable. You’ve got some short irons and you’re not hitting many drivers off the tee,” said Gribble, a former Texas golfer competing on a Champions’ Choice exemption. “But if you hit it crooked, the rough is up and it’s playing wet.”
Such mitigating circumstances, along with improved course drainage procedures in recent years, caused some veteran players to tap the brakes on the idea that the Colonial record book might be in jeopardy this week. Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer, a Colonial member who tied the course record (61) last week during a casual round, joined Boerne resident Jimmy Walker in expressing a pleasant surprise at the firmness of Colonial’s greens during practice rounds.
“It’s unbelievable how good the course is right now with all the water we’ve had. You’re still getting a nice bounce on the greens,” Palmer said. “I don’t think you’ll see what we saw when Zach Johnson won [in 2010], because those greens were a lot softer than they are now. And you’ve got to remember, back then, the wind didn’t blow at all. It was as calm as I’ve ever seen it for four days.
“With the weather we’re going to get coming in and out [this week], we’ll get a nice breeze. All it takes is a 10 mph wind here to play with your mind.”
Add it up, Palmer said, and he predicted a winning score “like last year, when only 9 under won.”
Defending champ Adam Scott posted that number, 12 shots below Johnson’s tournament-record mark, before defeating Jason Dufner in a three-hole playoff.
Walker, a two-time tour winner this season, does not envision record-setting scores because balls are “not spinning back by any means” on the Colonial greens despite the recent rains.
“I really don’t see the greens being that soft,” Walker said. “And the grain in the fairway grass kind of moves all over the place, so it’s difficult to get a very clean, crisp strike on the ball.”
Yet history tells us that conditions remain favorable for record-setting scores: Soft greens plus world-class golfers. All it takes is for one golfer to get hot and separate himself from the field.
Patrick Rodgers, a first-time Colonial competitor who won the 2014 Ben Hogan Award, hopes he fits that description and plans to attack the rain-softened course.
“I tend to play golf courses pretty aggressively, and my early looks tell me that’s what my game plan is looking to be here,” Rodgers said. “I’ll try to take advantage of some of the shorter holes and, with the greens being a little bit softer, it’s going to allow us to fire at a few more flags. But simple, patient golf is what wins out here. Even if the number is really low, that mindset is going to have to be carried through the whole week.”
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760
Colonial scoring records
A look at tournament records that could be in jeopardy this week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial if greens softened by recent rains produce a four-day birdiefest:
Lowest winning total
Lowest 54-hole total
Lowest 36-hole total
Shared by six golfers