The Fort Worth Invitational is the longest running event on the PGA Tour still played on its original host course. Nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” for the five titles Ben Hogan won here, Colonial Country Club is a tough as nails. The 7,204 yard, par-70 beauty of a track features tree-lined fairways, prevalent doglegs, and small, demanding greens that are tricky to read. Well-placed shots are all-important and smart club selection is crucial. Ben Hogan probably summed up this Fort Worth gem best when he said, “A straight ball at Colonial will get you in more trouble than any course I know.” Here are five things you need to know about the 73rd edition of the Fort Worth Invitational.
Inside the Field
The Fort Worth Invitational is only one of five tournaments on Tour with invitational status, but the smaller field won’t lack for star power. Defending champion Kevin Kisner returns to Colonial this year along with 4 of the top 6 players in the OWGR – including Ben Hogan Award winners Jon Rahm (2015, 2016) and Rickie Fowler (2008), 2012 finalist Jordan Spieth, and Olympic gold champion Justin Rose. 2017 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and reigning PLAYERS champion Webb Simpson join 11 other major winners teeing it up this week including Jason Dufner, Adam Scott, and Jimmy Walker. Young gunslingers Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele have already tasted victory on Tour, while others like Maverick McNealy and Ollie Schniederjans are standing on the edge of the winner’s circle.
Talk to Chuck
With no official tournament sponsor and considerable uncertainty about the event going off as scheduled, city leaders secured $12 million at the last minute from American Airlines, AT&T, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and XTO Energy to run this year’s event. In recognition of the local effort and support, the tournament was fittingly renamed the Fort Worth Invitational.
That was a one-time arrangement only, however, and Charles Schwab will assume sponsorship starting next year and running through 2022. Schwab already has existing partnerships with the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, and PGA of America, and this latest commitment provides much needed and deserved stability for an event shown to have a $47 million impact on the Fort Worth economy.
Classic American Golf
Colonial is a long, narrow, shot-makers course that requires both length and placement off the tees. Very rarely is a well-struck shot penalized, but with seven holes that dogleg right, you have a clear advantage if you’re adept at fading the ball. Putting surfaces are among the smallest on Tour, but they’re also some of most receptive. The bentgrass greens require generous moisture to survive in the Texas heat, and you can fire at flagsticks and be very aggressive with the putter because they’re so soft. With only two par-5s and no given birdie holes, you still have to pick and choose when to be aggressive. The best way to beat Colonial, however, is by working the ball, staying out of trouble, and getting up and down.
A Lifelong Love Affair
Hogan won the first Colonial, and Colonial gave Hogan his last Tour win. There’s a shared adoration between the two, and it’s impossible to not feel his presence here. Walk past the life-size bronze statue of Hogan and his distinctive finish and you immediately know you’re on hallowed ground. Step through the front door of the clubhouse and Hogan’s portrait hangs in the front room, along with many other possessions like all five trophies he won at Colonial.
A request that “gentlemen please remove their hats” greets you before entering the “Hogan Room” – a treasury of various accomplishments in Hogan’s career. A miniature Hogan replica listing all 69 professional wins, his preserved locker with the first set of Hogan irons ever built and sold, original instruction books like his “Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” and a basket flagstick from the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion when he hit his famous 1-iron shot – they’re all here. And so is the spirit of Hogan.
Cracking the Code
Colonial lays the hammer down immediately with a stretch of three holes (Nos. 3, 4, and 5) known as “The Horrible Horseshoe.” The 483-yard, par-4, 3rd hole requires a perfectly placed tee shot around a menacing tree and bunkers. The elevated green on the 247-yard, par-3, 4th hole is difficult to hold and can quickly put you on tilt. While the world-renowned 481-yard, par-4, 5th hole leaves zero margin for error off the tee. Miss left and find yourself stuck in a ditch or pinned down by trees. Miss right and the Trinity River engulfs you. Byron Nelson once called Colonial “one of the best five courses in the country.” Arnold Palmer – who rarely played it well, called it “unfair.” One thing they’d probably both have agreed upon – birdies are rare and you can dig a hole early.
You want to look at on-point ball-strikers who score on the par-4s and also avoid bogeys this week, and Rickie Fowler should be able to carve out plenty of scoring opportunities on Colonial. Fowler is ranked 5th on Tour in Par-4 Scoring and 2nd in Bogey Avoidance. Rickie is coming off a surprising missed cut at The PLAYERS. However, Fowler’s shown a knack to bounce back after disappointing finishes this year (T-11 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after a MC at Farmers Insurance, and solo-2nd at The Masters after a T-43 at the Houston Open). Look for Fowler to sneak past Bryson DeChambeau in a back and forth memorable final round on Sunday.