When a quirky clause in the contract the Valero Texas Open has with the PGA Tour required the VTO to be played the week before the Masters last year, forcing the Shell Houston Open off its usual date the week before Augusta, perhaps no one was more vocal about the temporary change than Phil Mickelson.
“We all were disappointed,” Mickelson said when he arrived in Houston last year. “(The Shell Houston Open is) a fun, fun tournament to play before the Masters. Unfortunately, the next week where it’s windy and tight, it’s just not conducive to getting ready for Augusta.”
To be sure, Mickelson was immediately asked if, by “next week,” he meant San Antonio: “Yeah.”
Yet this week, VTO executive director Larson Segerdahl confirmed that Mickelson has committed to play in “windy” San Antonio at the “tight” TPC San Antonio Oaks Course next week (March 27-30).
Considering that Lefty hasn’t played here in more than 20 years, this move is a golf-awkward right-hand turn for him. What happened to make Mickelson bust through his mental barricade and take the detour to San Antonio as he travels to Augusta?
That question has been asked through an email to T.R. Reinman, the media relations director at the agency managing Mickelson’s career. There’s been no response.
So, here’s some speculation:
First, Lefty’s game has taken a nose dive. It’s no good, and he needs the work even if he sticks to his usual plan by playing in Houston the week after the VTO. Since the completion of the FedEx Cup, Mickelson played in three events in Asia: the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, the WGC-HSBC in China and the European Tour event at Abu Dhabi through mid January. Nine of his 12 rounds were under par. Since then he’s played five events stateside, and from his 16 rounds only five have come in under par. He has one withdrawal (Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines) because of a bad back.
Next, TPC’s Oaks Course is not as grisly as it’s been made out to be, particularly after some changes have been constructed in and around four putting greens. It was beckoned for by players, because stroke average at the 2011 Valero Texas Open was 1.665 strokes over par. Two years ago it topped out at 1.989 over par, which made the Oaks play as the fourth most difficult course on the PGA Tour. Finally, last year it tumbled down to only .740 over par, and that came with some of the wind Mickelson has cited. Three other tournament sites this year — Torrey Pines, Honda’s PGA National and the WGC’s Doral — all have played more difficult this year.
And last, and this is a bit touchy, is charity. Perhaps when Mickelson made those comments last year that “We all were disappointed” by the limited schedule change swapping the San Antonio and Houston events, he was unaware that the change was made, mostly, to accommodate a charitable event Valero operates in conjunction with the Texas Open.
Valero is the record-holder for charitable contributions on the PGA Tour (more than $9 million a year recently). To bark over a one-year deal, crafted in a way to keep charity money flowing, makes one sound like a heel — if that person was otherwise uninformed.
Mickelson has to know, now. His charitable foundation benefits a science teacher’s academy and, by the way, is sponsored by a company (ExxonMobil) that’s in the same business (oil production and energy) as Valero. Mickelson also has significant involvement in Birdies for the Brave, which generates funds for injured soldiers and their families. Valero has an event on Friday night of tournament week recognizing and benefiting military heroes.
This will be Mickelson’s first appearance to play in San Antonio since 1992 at Oak Hills Country Club. H-E-B was the title sponsor and the event was played in the fall. Mickelson, now 43, was a PGA Tour rookie who had one career PGA Tour win — as an amateur — at Phoenix the previous year. He didn’t crack the top 40 here.
The Texas Open was struggling then; Mickelson had a brighter future.
Things have changed. Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 2 in the world, played here last year, and now Mickelson. McIlroy came here for the work. So is Mickelson. The Green Jacket can make players do things normally out of their way. But don’t underestimate the green for charity.