Friday, April 21, 2006

Names from the Houston Open

A few names jumped out at me while looking over the first-round results from the Shell Houston Open this morning:

Phil Blackmar, 76
The Corpus Christi native is nearing Champions Tour age, and spends most of his time these days as a television analyst for USA Network's golf coverage, or in his role as the PGA Tour's liaison to its players. But he still plays one tournament a year, the Shell Houston Open.

And way not? This event is one of the three Blackmar won in his PGA Tour career. Blackmar won the Houston Open in 1997 (his other wins coming at the 1985 Greater Hartford Open and 1988 Provident Classic).

Lonny Alexander, 73
Lonny Alexander is a club professional. He wasn't one of the four golfers who gained entry to the tournament through Monday qualifying, so I'm guessing he got in through a sponsor's exemption.

Alexander spent many years as one of the two pros at Sundance Golf Course and Driving Range in New Braunfels, which was long considered one of the best practice facilities - with one of the best junior programs - in the country before it closed last year.

After Sundance closed, Alexander moved on to the Onion Creek Club in Austin, where he runs the club's School of Golf programs. And he's definitely got game - he played in last year's PGA of America Club Professionals Championship (CPC).

Jimmy Walker, 71
Walker, a Cibolo native playing out of San Antonio's Oak Hill Country Club, has so far had a snakebitten PGA Tour career.

Big things were expected from Walker after he won the Nationwide Tour money title in 2004. He instructor told me he expected Walker to be a Top 5 player in the world within a couple years.

But in his very first tournament of 2005, he suffered a neck injury that lingered throughout the year. His rookie season on Tour wasn't what he'd hoped for: because of the injury, he played only nine events (none after May), making the cut in just three of them.

The injury didn't heal until late in the year, and in 2006 Walker is playing on a medical exemption that gives him a spot in 20 tournaments. He's played in seven of those 20 tournaments to this point, with three cuts.

Walker says the biggest problem he's having so far this year is course management - a few bad decisions have led to big numbers on some holes, big numbers that cost him the cut a few times. The San Antonio newspaper had an article about Walker's struggles and his outlook before the start of the Houston Open.

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