At the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson, played for the first time at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Collin County held its first audition to the golf world over the weekend.
For three days, the tournament went smooth. Sunday, torrential rains turned fairways and greens into temporary ponds.
A muddy mess and, at worst, a suspension of play dragging the tournament into Monday ahead of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, SC, were very much on the table to spoil the party. You could almost feel McKinney holding its breath as TPC Craig Ranch attempted the figurative triple axle of hosting the tournament for the first time when the horn blared for a lightning delay.
However, an army of squeegees and the course’s lauded drainage proved mightier than the flash flood.
The course, designed more than a decade ago with a vision to host something like this, stuck the landing.
And as the clouds parted briefly Sunday afternoon, the world watched as K.H. Lee, a humble champion from South Korea, secured his first PGA tour win with a tap-in birdie on the 18th to finish at 24-under.
Red pants — made famous by tournament sponsors, the Salesmanship Club — are now very much in Vogue in McKinney. It’s a trend that should last until at least 2025.
“Our City was broadcast all across the world, with pictures and stories, not just of our great golf course (thank you David Craig), but also of our historic square and other amenities of our community,” McKinney Mayor George Fuller said on social media. “The economic impact will only grow as the next tournaments will operate at full capacity.
“We fought hard for the first 5-year commitment, though I believe the Salesmanship Club is already viewing McKinney as their permanent home.”
Saturday Before the Storm
I joined the masses following around Jordan Spieth Saturday and I don’t think Fuller is exaggerating. From the venue, to the loaded field, to the seamless transition to a new city, I couldn’t help but think this was the start of something big for the area.
Last year, COVID-19 ended the 2020 Byron Nelson tournament before it began. But the tournament has been in a state of flux since 2018 after it was moved from Las Colinas. The 2021 tournament, however, injected some much-needed life into the tradition.
As a golf fan, I’ve enjoyed many hot days and cold drinks at the Byron at TPC Las Colinas. I’ve watched from afar during the anticlimactic 2018 and 2019 Byron Nelson at Trinity Forrest in Dallas. It appears Collin County’s place in the golf world is set in stone.
After signing a five-year commitment, McKinney is now home to the Byron Nelson, a traditional celebration of North Texas golf, and the many talented players it has produced.
The tournament’s first few days were marked by groupings with local talent, like Spieth, Highland Park’s Scottie Scheffler and Trinity Christian Academy’s Will Zalatoris. Bryson DeChambeau, the long-ball smashing Southern Methodist University product made the cut.
Spieth has played in the tournament since he was a 16-year-old Jesuit student. He had his best finish at the tournament to date, finishing in ninth despite a lackluster final round. Zalatoris finished tied for 17th.
It wasn’t just local big names with North Texas ties. The tournament boasted a loaded field in McKinney that included Major winners Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama. Dustin Johnson was set to play, but was a late scratch due to an injury.
With the level of talent in contention, and as crowds shuffled from hole to hole, it didn’t feel like limited attendance. It felt like a normal event. But perhaps that’s COVID-19 crowd recency bias.
Masks were rare, but I believe recent CDC guidance played a role in that decision with the outdoor event. And as Spieth eagled out on the 18th hole Saturday, I left the Byron Nelson golf tournament and headed home. For the first time, the drive was pretty brief.
On the way, I passed the PGA tour headquarters that’s nearing completion in Frisco.
If you’re a Collin County resident, you don’t have to look far for PGA tour golf.
In fact, it’s come to you.