Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What Now for the Byron Nelson Classic?

I wanted to wait a few days before writing this post, so it wouldn't seem inappropriate in the wake of Byron Nelson's death. But when I heard about Nelson's passing, about the third thing that popped into my little pea-sized brain was this: I wonder if the tournament will go along with him.

Without the pull of Byron Nelson, will the Byron Nelson Classic be able to survive as one of the top destinations on the PGA Tour? Most all of the top players - even Tiger Woods - showed up annually for the Nelson. And that's not because the players love the courses the tournament is played on (they don't). It was solely because it was Mr. Nelson's tournament, and today's stars felt the need to show up out of respect for Nelson.

Sadly, Nelson is no longer with us. And if you're wondering whether the PGA Tour, officials with the sponsor EDS, and other tournament officials are a little worried about the future of the event, well, the answer is yes.

And they should be: They need only look across town to The Colonial to see what can happen to a tournament when its drawing card departs. The Colonial was always one of the top spots on Tour. The course was "Hogan's Alley," and while the tournament itself didn't belong to Ben Hogan, his presence loomed large over the event. I've seen interviews from the 1970s in which pros named Colonial as one of their favorite stops on Tour, simply because they could watch Hogan practice. And often, they didn't even watch him practice at Colonial Country Club - they drove over to Shady Oaks just to sit and watch Hogan.

In the more than 10 years since Hogan's death, the status of The Colonial on the PGA Tour has fallen dramatically. The tournament that Nicklaus, Trevino and Watson always showed up for now calls Kenny Perry a big name.

And there's a strong possibility that's the fate that awaits the Byron Nelson Classic. I don't expect Woods, Els, Singh and other top players to start skipping the event immediately. They'll want to show up in 2007 to honor Byron Nelson. But in the next few years, expect to see the Byron Nelson Classic start to fall out of the upper tier of PGA Tour events.

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