By Dan Reardon
Colonial Country Club has long been associated with golf legend Ben Hogan. Close to his home in Fort Worth, it was the site of five of his PGA Tournament wins. The largest collection of Hogan memorabilia resides in Colonial’s clubhouse.
Hogan’s record as a player doesn’t have the quantity of accomplishments to rank him as the all-time best, but those familiar with the game’s history put him on top of the podium when it comes to swing genius.
There was a kind of synergy between Hogan the player and Colonial the course that likely explains his success there. And more than 75 years later it makes for a nice postscript on the recent edition of the Dean & Deluca Invitational.
A perfectionist when it came to his pursuit of the golf swing, Hogan today would be known as a shot-maker, a player who dissects a course, and Colonial is a course that calls for scalpel-like dissection. The Perry Maxwell design, known as Hogan’s Alley, was considered long in its infancy at over 7000 yards. But with only 200 yards added in the intervening years, the par-70 course is of modest length in today’s game.
With the Hogan association, the Invitational was once an A-list stop for the elites of the game, and its roster of former champions reflects that attraction. Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino and Mickelson have all at one time slipped into the tartan plaid winner’s jacket. But as length has become the dominant profile for success on Tour, the intimate confines in Fort Worth are less attractive. The procession of champions in this century has been more eclectic.
Since 2000 the only two winners with distance near the top of their assets have been Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. David Toms, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and last year’s champion, Jordan Spieth, may not be the tee-to-green maestro Hogan was in his day, but they all fit the description of shot-maker.
Last Sunday, as the final round played out at Colonial, there were more brains than brawn in the final groups. A resurgent Spieth stayed in the hunt until the final hole with a bogey-free 65. At 50 years of age, Stricker posted the round of the day, a 7-under 63. Third-round leader, Webb Simpson, had an opportunity to climb into a playoff on the final hole, but a bogey instead of a birdie doomed his chances.
The outlier in the group was the 22-year-old from Spain Jon Rahm. While the rest of the leaderboard employed finesse down the stretch, Rahm used the driver (333-yard average on Sunday) to try to bludgeon the field into submission. If his putter had cooperated, he likely would have succeeded.
It remained for Kevin Kisner, averaging more than 50 yards less off the tee than Rahm, to key in the right code for the win — four bogeys for the week.
Kisner early in the tournament talked about his comfort with a design like Colonial. “This is just like what I grew up on. Tight, small greens. You got to fit it in windows of not a lot of long irons into holes, which we’ve become accustomed to on the PGA Tour. I definitely feel like I’m going to play well here before I ever get here.”
He then added the prescription for the week. “Around here? Getting the ball in the fairway, because you just can’t get to the small greens out of the rough. You get so blocked out with the trees if you’re in the rough that you hit so many run-up shots you’re just not going to hit the greens with.”
It’s no coincidence that Kisner’s only other win came on a track similar in design philosophy to Colonial; he won the RSM Classic at Hilton Head a season ago. When reminded of his earlier win, Kisner discussed his own synergy. “You mentioned Hilton Head. Those are my two favorite on the Tour. This is the kind of golf course that I dream about playing. My opinion, too many are getting too long, too big, and guys are having too much advantage with power,” he said.
“The thing I love about Colonial is the precision game. You can tell the history is there when you just tee off. You can see they haven’t changed the course. You go out and plot your way around.”
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.