Houston Open History
photo courtesy of The Houston Open
The Houston Open was founded in its current form in 1946 when the Houston Golf Association (HGA) took to staging the tournament. The HGA is a non-profit that works to use golf to benefit Houston area youth through charities like The First Tee of Greater Houston, which reaches 350,000 Houston youth each year. The first event was hosted at the River Oaks Country Club before bouncing around several Houston area courses including the Pine Forest Country Club, Pine Forest Country Club and the Woodlands Country Club, among others.
Since 2007, the Houston Open has been contested the week before the Masters. The Open’s host, the Golf Club of Houston, is known for its similar layout and conditions to Augusta National. This makes the Houston Open the perfect tune up to the Masters. That fact means it gets a very competitive field each year. Numerous golfers have used the tournament as a stepping stone to the Masters, most recently in 2015 when Jordan Spieth won the Masters after a disappointing playoff loss at the Houston Open. And for golfers competing who don’t already have a coveted Masters invitation, the winner of the tournament automatically gains entrance to the storied tournament. With so much on the line, the Houston Open consistently serves compelling golf to players and fans alike.
This year’s edition may be the last to serve as a warm-up to the Masters, as there have been open rumblings that the Houston Open’s pre-Master’s spot will be given to the Valero Texas Open in 2019. While nothing official has been stated, the fact that Houston’s lost its principal sponsor and was unable to replace it before this year’s tournament will surely come into play in the PGA Tour’s decision. This makes the 2018 edition all the more exciting, as the tournament organizers seek to put on the greatest show possible in hopes of maintaining their coveted slot on the Tour.
The Houston Open can claim many of the game’s greatest players as past champions including Arnold Palmer, Curtis Strange, Lee Trevino and Ray Floyd. The only players to hold three Houston Open titles are Curtis Strange and Vijay Singh, both of whom share the honor of the lowest aggregate score at the tournament with Lee Trevino at 266. Though the location of the tournament has changed since its founding, it has been home to some incredible finishes.
Some notable past performances came in 1999 when Stuart Appleby claimed the title by one stroke. What made this particular win so significant is it was Appleby’s first win since his wife was tragically killed after being struck by an automobile. With the whole golfing world pulling for Appleby, he kept his composure to sink his final putt while cameras focused in on his gold wedding ring. Another notable finish saw Adam Scott win the 2007 edition after hitting his tee shot on the 18th hole into the water. WIth the title seemingly out of reach, Scott would sink one of the longest putts in tournament history to preserve his lead. A notable runner up would be 1952’s Frank Stranahan. Stranahan was competing as an amateur against the world's best and managed to finish second to 2-time major winning Jack Burke, Jr. In addition to his golfing prowess, Stranahan was one of the world’s best weightlifters in his weight class and stands as one of the most colorful characters in golf's history.
The 2017 tournament saw Russell Henley claim his third PGA Tour title on the back of an amazing final round. Needing to make up four shots on leader Kang Sung-hoon, Henley would shoot 10 birdies to ultimately win the title by 3 strokes. Henley would bogey on the 18th hole to keep from claiming the lowest scoring record at the Golf Club of Houston’s Tournament Course, home to the tournament since 2006. Instead, Henley tied Phil Mickelson’s 2010 score of -20 to share the lowest score honor with Mickelson.
Henley returns in 2018 to defend his crown against a strong field of golfers. Jordan Spieth will be competing, as he looks to overcome a rough start to the season as he continues his recovery from mononucleosis which robbed him of a proper preseason. Also returning is 2011 winner Phil Mickelson, fresh off of winning the WGC-Mexico Championship, his first win in over 4 years. A wildcard competitor is India’s Shubhankar Sharma. After leading the field at the WGC-Mexico Championship after 54 holes, Sharma received an invite to the Masters and will use the Houston Open for preparation. Most Americans haven’t seen much of Sharma, and Houston is his chance to prove his quality. In addition, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler add class to the field. If history is any indicator, the Houston Open is likely to be a tight affair. Don’t be surprised to see this tournament be decided by a playoff, as only the U.S. Open has been decided by more playoffs.