The Golf Club of Houston plays host to the TOUR this week, as the Shell Houston Open provides one more tuneup for the players – and for you – before Augusta. When you think about what challenges the course presents, and what kinds of players might succeed here, the conversation immediately turns to Augusta. And while this tournament DOES actually provide a good warmup for The Masters in a lot of ways, it’s not actually quite that simple.
One stat that people often cite about Augusta, and therefore also the GC of Houston, is the low percentage of successful scrambling from the rough because that tough second cut is a hallmark of the way the PGA Tour approaches the four majors.
But that being said, the reasons why finishing off a hole from the rough is difficult this weekend are not the same as the reasons why it is tough at Augusta. Next week, there are tight fairways, surrounded by long, thick rough, and you’re shooting at slick, well-defended greens. It’s not just “the rough” causing a problem. As much as anything else, in fact, the reason having to hit from the rough is such a problem next weekend is simple: if you’re in the rough, your game isn’t perfect, and you need your game to be perfect to get that green jacket.
This weekend, though, not all of those conditions hold true. There are plenty of hazards around, and the greens are kept nice and slick to prep these guys for what’s coming, but the fairways look nothing like the tight alleys you contend with rounding Amen Corner. They are, in fact, wide open – maybe shooting from the rough is so tough here simply because being in the rough means you are so far away.
For that reason, Phil Mickelson is an example of the kind of player who could succeed this weekend and have it not really predict any level of success next weekend, no matter how much he wants to consider this one a primer. He has won the Masters once (2010) since this tournament has been set as the immediate lead-in, and he finished T35 in Houston that year, in which he was unable to recover from a second round 76.
And make no mistake, in terms of Mickelson, by that “kind of player,” I mean “wildly inaccurate.” Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but he is something like 150th on Tour in driving accuracy, so it’s not too far off. This weekend, he can drive it in a way that Augusta won’t forgive, and still leave himself a scoring opportunity. And those scoring chances are what matters here: the winners routinely finish with double-digit strokes under par. So while you might be able to let your drive go a little wayward, you better start making up for it with your next shot. If you let too many birdie holes pass you by, you just aren’t going to be able to make up that ground.
And since what you need are birdies on par 5’s and to convert on at least a few of your other birdie chances, for this week, my advice is to concentrate on the short game. The scoring clubs: the putter, the short wedges – these are the clubs that are going to win this tournament for someone, no matter how long the course is. Driving distance can serve you as a very convenient tiebreaker.