Events & Reviews
The PGA Tour is back in the Lone Star state this week for the Valero Texas Open, the third oldest event on Tour dating back over 90 years to 1922. It’s currently played on the 7,435 yard, par-72 Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, which was designed by Greg Norman with new Masters champion Sergio Garcia serving as consultant. Nine major champions and 10 of the World’s Top-50 players headline the field of 156 players, including Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Jimmy Walker, and defending champion Charley Hoffman.
Since the Oaks Course debuted in 2010 as the tournament venue, it’s constantly ranked as one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour schedule. Narrow fairways lined with oak and mesquite trees, 54 bunkers (some of them more than 12-feet deep), and difficult-to-hold, raised greens with menacing run-off areas are the primary defenses. The rough is generally short, but miss the first two cuts and knee-level native grass can be maddening. When the south Texas winds kick up, anyone’s round can be ruined.
GPS view of No.16 with a bunker sitting inside the green
Oaks is a challenging layout with a nice mix of long and short holes making it a fantastic test of golf, but there’s no denying many of the holes weigh in at big-boy yardages. Two of the par-5s measure over 600 yards, and last season the four par-5s ranked as the third-toughest set of par-5s on Tour, yielding a scoring average of only 4.86 strokes. The 8th and 18th holes annually play over-par.
Three of the four par-3s are over 200 yards long and well protected by deep bunkering, while four of the 10 par-4s play over 450-yards long. The par-4s will present the greatest challenges for players with six of them ranking as the most difficult holes on the course, and the exceptional closing stretch on Nos. 16 through 18 will deliver high drama with a potentially drivable par-4 and a risk-reward par-5.
Fairway view of No.1 into the green
Forty percent of approach shots last year came from 150-200 yards out, putting a premium on ball-striking, and last year Oaks surrendered tournament-record highs in greens-in-regulation and proximity-to-hole. That didn’t translate to a higher scoring average however thanks to some evil pin locations. The greens feature a lot of slope and undulation, making approach shots and putting very tricky, especially when the winds start gusting.
The most difficult hole on the course has traditionally been the par-4, beastly 474-yard, ninth hole that often plays into the wind. Last year, it handed out 134 bogeys or worse while giving up only 35 birdies. No. 9 is the only hole on the course without any bunkering, but you’re in big trouble if you miss the fairway. In 2011, Kevin Na set a PGA Tour record for worst score on a par-4 chopping his way to a nightmarish 16. A long narrow green is protected by dangerous fall off on all sides, with a sharp back-to-front slope.
No. 16 is one of the most recognizable holes in golf with a unique bunker in the center of the green similar to Riviera’s No. 6. This 183-yard, par-3 hole is generally a great birdie opportunity, but deep bunkers on both sides can make bogey just as likely as birdie. At only 347 yards, the par-4, No. 17 is short but dangerous. The fairway is the widest on the course, and aggressive players will certainly try to drive the green. Massive bunkers around the green, however, can punish errant drives and even leave players with little chance to make birdie.
The 591-yard, par-5 18th hole plays uphill with a right-to-left sloping fairway, and requires an accurate second shot for the best angle into the green. Most players will hit wedge into a three-tiered putting surface protected by three bunkers and a creek guarding the front. Par is a great score here.
Players To Watch
Matt Kuchar arrives to San Antonio in great form and has three top-15 finishes here since 2012. Kuchar has the ball-striking prowess to navigate himself around the Oaks course, but hasn’t been particularly good in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee or Par 4 Birdies Or Better, two stats that will be important in determining a winner. Look for Kuchar to finish outside the top-25.
Patrick Reed is the highest-ranked player in the field, but hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish since the Ryder Cup, and is coming off two consecutive missed cuts. Reed’s been on point off the tee, but his iron play and putting has been pretty much disastrous this year. It’d be a great story for him to right the ship in his hometown San Antonio, however, a third consecutive missed cut if a very real possibility.
Charlie Hoffman has never missed a cut since this event moved to the Oaks Course. No matter what his form is like upon arriving here, he definitely likes what he sees once he arrives in San Antonio. If Hoffman can avoid that small destructive stretch of play that seems to plague him when he’s near the lead, he should come out on top this week and successfully defend his title.