Golf

Chris Kirk gets trophy but Scott Ebers deserves Colonial MVP

Course workers were busy pumping and sweeping water from the course after heavy rain late Saturday and early Sunday.
Course workers were busy pumping and sweeping water from the course after heavy rain late Saturday and early Sunday. Star-Telegram

Chris Kirk, freshly crowned champion of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, has a new plaid jacket and climbed Monday to No. 17 in the world golf rankings, the loftiest perch of his professional career.

Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, the Masters champion who tied for second at Colonial, dominated galleries during tournament week and triggered an estimated 25 percent spike in ticket sales over 2014 at Fort Worth’s annual tour event.

But the shining star of Colonial week, in the estimation of PGA Tour officials and tournament executives, proved to be course superintendent Scott Ebers.

Along with a maintenance crew of more than 30 members, Ebers and his cohorts kept a saturated course playable despite daily showers and deluges that upped the rain total at Colonial to more than 10 inches over the past two weeks.

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome on the course, Colonial tournament director Michael Tothe was quick to identify Ebers as the true MVP of the 2015 Colonial.

The 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial has been one for the books weather-wise. Overnight rains will again soak the course before Sunday's finale. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley.

“Absolutely,” Tothe said. “He’s the guy, 100 percent.”

Mark Russell, the PGA Tour tournament director in charge of Colonial’s course set-up, praised Ebers and his staff for their efforts in helping achieve an on-time finish during Sunday’s live network television window despite compensating for three-hour rain delays in the first and final rounds.

“I can’t say enough about Scott Ebers and his staff,” Russell said. “They did a great job for us.”

As we close the book on the 2015 Colonial — the last to be played during Crowne Plaza’s nine-year run of title sponsorship — images of umbrellas, muddy crosswalks and rain-soaked competitors will stick with fans. But here are five other notable storylines to remember or track before next year’s Colonial, scheduled May 23-29 in Fort Worth:

Sponsorship update

Although negotiations are ongoing with multiple suitors as Colonial’s next title sponsor, Tothe indicated a new deal is not expected to be finalized until mid-summer.

“We’ve talked to financial institutions, automotive companies,” Tothe said. “I would think now that we’re officially [on the market], there would be some attention from other companies, other local companies, that would want to get involved in golf.

“Where we are in our talks, I think July or August would be a good time frame for an announcement.”

Bobby Patton, Colonial tournament chairman, said: “The thing to keep in mind is, it’s a contract between the PGA Tour and a title sponsor. We’re kind of the third party to a two-party contract. While we’re involved and we care and we’re very interested, it is a PGA Tour contract.”

Ticket sales spike

Although final attendance figures were still unavailable, Tothe said the 2015 Colonial generated more buzz at the box office than it showed during tournament week because weather issues kept many ticket-holders at home.

“Our ticket sales were pacing about 25 percent up,” Tothe said. “But I don’t know if that translated on the ground. With the weather, I don’t think we had the full utilization of that 25 percent [spike].”

Improved experience

Based on fan feedback after the 2014 tournament, Tothe said Colonial officials tweaked “10 or 15 really hardcore areas,” including a switch in on-course catering companies.

Celebrity chef Tim Love did not return in 2015 after a one-year run as the on-course caterer, replaced by Spectrum Catering and Concessions from Conroe.

In addition, Rockwood Lane replaced TCU parking lots as the primary park-and-shuttle area for fans. Tweaks were also made to the concert lineup in Frost Park and the Colonial Main Street area near the ninth fairway.

“Everything we’ve tweaked has worked,” Tothe said. “The catering has been amazing. The parking has been amazing. Despite the weather, everything else has been perfect.”

Course holds its own

Despite soggy conditions for every round, Kirk’s winning total of 12-under did not approach the tournament-record total of 21-under set by Zach Johnson during a rainy, windless 2010 event. Players said credit should go to Ebers’ crew and the daily breezes that surfaced throughout tournament week.

“With the amount of rain that we’ve been getting in the Metroplex, it’s incredible that we can play a tournament, let alone have it not affect the scores and really make this a challenging venue,” Spieth said.

Charley Hoffman, who posted 9-under and tied for 10th, said: “I think Colonial held its own.”

Kirk’s emergence

Kirk, 30, won his fourth career event as a tour participant and his third in the past two seasons. He jumped to No. 16 on the season money list ($2,245,227) and became the first recipient of the Ben Hogan Award (2007) to win as a touring pro at “Hogan’s Alley.”

Kirk envisions Sunday’s triumph as a career springboard because he won despite struggles with his driver.

“To be able to do it when I didn’t really feel like I quite had it is a huge step for me,” Kirk said. “I’m a little surprised but very proud of myself.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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