The Houston Open began in 1946 and historically has been played at several Houston venues. This year marks the first year that the Houston Open will be played at the newly renovated Memorial Park Golf Course.
From 2007 to 2018, the Houston Open was the pre-Masters warm up, but last year the event was moved to the fall seris of tournaments. In a strange twist of fate resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, the tournament again finds itself as the pre-tournament warm up for the rescheduled Masters.
Memorial Park Golf Course was originally constructed in 1912 as a nine hole course, expanding to 18 holes in 1936. It is currently Houston’s most popular municipal course and hosts some 60,000 rounds per year.
Tom Doak designed the privately funded $15 million renovation of Memorial Park. His brief was to make it an exciting venue for the PGA Tour’s Houston Open, while keeping the course playable for the recreational golfer. The project was funded by the Astros Golf Foundation.
What we’ve done is a complete renovation. We dug up every hole, every green, every tee box. We took out the old irrigation system and old drainage system and put in new irrigation, new drainage.”Giles Kibbe, President of the Astros Golf Foundation
Doak was joined by player consultant Brooks Koepka in redesigning the 7,292-yard municipal course. Koepka advised on ideas and subtle nuances to make the course more challenging for the world’s best golfers.
Memorial Park is a typical Doak design, generous fairways and alternate paths to get to the greens. There is a good selection of varying hole lengths including some drivable Par’4s.
Tee boxes and fairways were moved to bring the ravines into play on the front nine. Some greens were moved also so that trees could be an obstacle for players who drive in the rough.
The number of bunkers was reduced from 50 to 19, three of which are on the 18th hole. Fairways were re-contoured and more undulation introduced to the greens. Green orientations, shapes and sizes have all changed making for a better and more varied choice of pin-placements.
The irrigation pond located between holes 11 and 16 was tripled in size. The result is that water is now a factor in the closing holes especially on the Par 5 16th with water all along the right hand side. It also has water across the front of the green and to both sides.
Last year, a 31 year old Lanto Griffin captured his maiden victory at the Houston Open. He closed with a final round -3 (69) at the Golf Club of Houston for a total score of -14 (274). It was enough for the California native to finish two shots clear of both Scott Harrington and Mark Hubbard.
“This is going to be a week that I’ll never, never forget, regardless what happens the rest of my career. I feel very fortunate beyond words.”Lanto Griffin
All elements to his game was on point. He finished inside the Top 10 for both Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and Strokes Gained Putting. Other stats for the tournament include T46 for Driving Accuracy, 7th for Driving Distance, T48 for GIR and 1st for Putts per GIR.
In 2018, Ian Poulter sank a 20-foot birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Beau Hossler. He sealed the victory with a par on the first extra hole and secured the final berth in the Masters that year. It was the Englishman’s third victory on Tour and first since the 2012 WGC HSBC Champions.
Tee-to-green is where Poulter excelled and in particular on approach. He finished the week 3rd in the Strokes Gained Approach-The-Green category, gaining 7.231 strokes on the field average for the week. Other stats for the week include 3rd for Driving Accuracy, 61st for Driving Distance, T4 for GIR and 15th for Strokes Gained Putting.
The 2017 champion, Russell Henley, came from four shots back in the final round to win his 3rd PGA Tour title. He had a final round -7 (65), which included 10 birdies, to give him a three stroke victory over Sung-hoon Kang.
Henley finished 1st for Strokes Gained Putting gaining an impressive 12.514 strokes over the four rounds. His game tee-to-green was non-too-shabby either yielding another 7.183 strokes for the week. Henley finished the week T4 for Driving Accuracy, 29th for Driving Distance, T4 for GIR and 1st for Putts per GIR.
In 2016, a 38 year old Jim Herman held off a packed leader board to capture his maiden victory. He chipped in for birdie on the Par 3 16th and finished with two pars for a final round -4 (68). It was enough to give him a one stroke victory over Henrik Stenson with Dustin Johnson a further shot back.
“This is crazy, I’ve dreamt of this for so long, and now it’s here. So I’m going to enjoy it.”Jim Herman
Herman finished the week 40th for Driving Distance, T16 for Driving Accuracy, T10 for GIR and T4 in Putts per GIR.
Like with all new courses entering the PGA Tour rota it is hard to find an angle in. When unfamiliar greens serve as targets, hitting full shots is key and those in tune with distance and accuracy should rise to the top this week.
Hitting it stiff will be key, especially with players on a learning curve in reading new greens. Scoring will ultimately be influenced by two key factors. How fast the greens run on the stimpmeter and the Texas winds.
Expect players in the mix to have a high percentage of greens in regulation, top-notch putting and a low scoring average on the stock Par 5s.
Houston Open Betting Tips
Russell Henley 22/1 (E/W) – a past champion at the Houston Open ,winning at the Golf Club of Houston in 2017. Arriving hot to Texas with his last three results reading T27 in the Shriners Hospitals Open, T3 at the CJ Cup and a T4 in his last outing at the ZOZO Championship. A solid all-round game, particularly greenside, puts him inside the Top 5 in this week’s Stats Analysis table. He is also 6th on Tour for SG:Approach-The-Green, 8th for GIR and 7th for Birdie Average. Skill set and current impressive run puts him firmly in this week’s crosshairs. In particular his Top 5 finishes at the ZOZO Championship and CJ Cup, both played on ‘newbie‘ courses on the PGA Tour rota, augers well for this week. Ticks a lot of boxes.
James Hahn 66/1 (E/W) – a regular at the Houston Open, his best result in the recent past is a T23 last year at the Golf Club of Houston. Has three Top 10’s in as many starts so far this season including a T5 in his last outing at the Shriners Hospitals Open. Statistically balanced, he comfortably tops the pile in this week’s Stats Analysis. He is also 7th on Tour for GIR and 5th for Birdie Average. An excellent game tee-to-green, its his improving work on the greens that demands attention. Zero reason to expect a letdown based on skill set and Current Form at juicy each way odds.