The PGA Tour rides into San Antonio this week for the Valero Texas Open. This event is the third oldest on Tour dating back to 1922 and boasts a list of champions filled with iconic names like Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Sam Snead. A star-studded field of 156 players will take on the par-72, 7,435 yard TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks course that has ranked inside the top-10 most difficult courses on Tour four times since moving here in 2010. Characterized by very steep and penalizing bunkers, complex greens, and narrow, tree-lined fairways, the Oaks course is one of the toughest tests players will face all season. Here are five things you need to know about the 96th edition of the Valero Texas Open, which reaches a worldwide television audience of more than 800 million households across 224 countries.

An old poster advertising the 1967 Texas Open 

Inside the Field

Six of the top-30 players in the OWGR will tee it up at Valero – the third of five stops this year in the Lone Star State. 2018 Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk returns for the first time since 2015 and has two top-10 finishes in three previous trips to TPC San Antonio. Sergio Garcia served as a consultant on this Greg Norman-designed track and makes his first appearance since 2010 when he finished T-45. Adam Scott won in 2010 but hasn’t played here since his T-23 finish in 2011. Hometown favorite Jimmy Walker became the fourth San Antonio-area resident to win the Texas Open in 2015. Charley Hoffman has one victory and two other top-3 finishes in eight starts at TPC San Antonio. While Kevin Chappell makes his first career title defense and will attempt to become the third player this century to win back-to-back at Valero.

Impact on Golf History

The Valero Texas Open is one of the premier events on Tour, but its long and illustrious history also laid the groundwork for today’s PGA Tour. It helped create a year-round schedule by serving as a model for other startup tournaments and made the sport – as played by professionals – accessible to the masses by providing notable and substantial financial opportunities. The first Texas Open offered a $5,000 purse, including $1,500 to the winner – three times what the U.S. Open winner was paid in 1922. San Antonio News editor Jack O’Brien asked his friends to pool their money for the tournament in hopes of attracting the sport’s best players and is credited with starting the event. O’Brien reportedly passed around a hat on the 18th green to gather even more prize money. Houston golf historian Frances G. Trimble probably summed it up best when he said, “The Texas Open did for golf what the railroad did for the cattle business.”

A Different Kind of TPC Course

Hole 17 at TPC San Antonio

TPC San Antonio’s Oaks course was designed with the intent to host a Tour event, but it’s markedly different than other TPC courses. You won’t see any spectator mounding or severe terrains. Oaks has a more natural look and traditional design with native grass and plants prevalent throughout the course. Gently rolling terrain features less than 100 feet of difference between the high and low points on the course. Narrow corridors carved through oak trees are balanced with wider fairways offering multiple strategic options to the green. Bunkering also reflects the natural, minimalist approach with edges emulating the canopy of native oak trees.

However, that’s not to suggest Oaks is an easy track. It’s climactic through and through, particularly on the closing three holes. The 183 yard, par-3, signature 16th hole features a notorious Riviera-like bunker in the middle of the green and requires players to find the right quadrant if they’re going to score. The drivable 347-yard, par-4 17th hole will deliver fits of joy and sorrow all week. While the 591-yard, par-5 18th hole offers tremendous risk-reward opportunity, and when the pin is on the right side, water will eat golf balls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Highlight Moments

Tiger Woods made his only appearance at the Texas Open in 1996 as a rookie and was given his official PGA Tour card outside the scoring trailer adjacent to the 9th green. Adam Scott set the Oaks course scoring record by prevailing on a 36-hole Sunday to win his seventh Tour event and card a 274. Kevin Na infamously recorded a 16 at the 474-yard, par-4 9th hole after struggling to chop himself free from rocks and underbrush. The next year Na returned with a chainsaw to show there were no hard feelings. One of the Texas Open’s most memorable moments occurred in 1940 when Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson went toe-to-toe for four gruelling rounds. Both legends posted scores of 281 before Nelson won an 18-hole playoff by one stroke.

Keys to Victory

Hole 14 at TPC San Antonio

Three of Oak’s par-5s measure 591 yards or longer, which means these won’t be easy pickings. In fact, this trio of holes rank inside the top-20 toughest par-5s on Tour. Missing fairways is potentially devastating. Trees and rocks capable of creating unplayable lies are lurking around every corner. Surviving the par-5s will be just as important as scoring on them. The four par-3s range in distance from 183 yards to 241 yards, putting a premium on distance control. The Bermuda greens are generously sized and relatively quick – running at about 11 on the Stimpmeter, but some are devilishly sloped. Winds can wreak havoc on these holes and produce proximity to hole numbers more characteristic of a weekend golfer than a Tour pro. Downhill holes play into prevailing winds, uphill holes play downwind, and cavernous bunkers strategically placed throughout the course, along with water hazards on seven holes, add to the ball-striking challenge.

Winner Prediction

Charley Hoffman ranks T-19 on Tour in Par-5 Scoring and is coming off three top-20 finishes in his last five starts (including an impressive T-12 finish at The Masters). Hoffman’s course history is exceptional as well – he’s never finished outside the top-15 since this event moved to TPC San Antonio in 2010. Charlie doesn’t excel in any one particular statistical category (outside of first-round major championship scoring), but his stellar course history and recent form make him the man to beat this week.

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