A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: It's Houston Open time

The Houston Open begins play next week. Houstonopen.org

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If you’re like most of us, you’ve caught your mistake the second it rolled of your tongue.

Are you going to The Shell next week? I mean Houston Open?

Old habits die hard. Especially ones that date back to the early ‘90s. As in 1992.

Shell Oil Company stepped in as title sponsor of Houston’s PGA TOUR event in 1992 and stepped out at the close of the 2017 event. And, yes, the search is still on for a title sponsor.

The last time we called next week’s PGA TOUR event the Houston Open was 1986 when feisty Curtis Strange beat Calvin Peete to win the second of his three Houston Opens.

Houston was between sponsors then, too. Coca Cola had bowed out and the Independent Insurance Agents had yet to bow in for a five-year run that ended in 1991.

As with other events, sponsorship is cyclical and Steve Timms, the Houston Open tournament director and president of the Houston Golf Association, is making the best of his search for a new title sponsor and the tournament’s last – for the near future – time as the lead-in to the Masters.

He’s already got a strong group of headliners coming to the Golf Club of Houston including Texan Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and fan favorite Phil Mickelson, all of whom will be intriguing storylines here as well as at the year’s first major.

And he’s putting Houston front-and-center too.

“We’re celebrating Houston,’’ Timms said earlier this month. “The Houston Open is here for Houston and we’re showcasing the city on national television. We want to put a great foot forward hopefully if we don’t have a title sponsor by then we’ll have some prospects who will be impressed by what we’re doing in the community.’’

In addition to the tournament, the HGA has almost completed the renovation and restoration of Gus Wortham Park and runs hugely successful junior programs through its Junior Golf and First Tee programs.

But the place to be this last week in March is at Golf Club of Houston for this 2018 Houston Open, an event that dates back to 1946 when Byron Nelson beat Ben Hogan and Sam Snead finished third. It was the only time those three golf legends finished in that order in any event.

This year’s legend is Mickelson who beat Justin Thomas last month to win the WGC-Mexico Championship to win the 43rd tournament of his career and his first since the 2013 British Open. He is now fourth on the 2018 Ryder Cup points list and needs just seven wins to hit the magic 50 mark.

“Seven more wins and I'll be there,’’ he said after the WGC win. “I don't have the month or the time, but I will get there."

Mickelson has been a regular here since 2008 and won the Shell Houston Open in 2011 – the year after he won his third Masters.

Spieth won three times last year, including the British Open where he beat Matt Kuchar by three shots. In 2015, Spieth and Johnson Wagner lost a  three-way playoff at the Shell to eventual winner J.B. Holmes, but Spieth went on to win his first major the following week in Augusta.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champ, won the 2018 season opener – the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions—and just had back-to-back top five finishes at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. Fowler won the 2017 Hero World Challenge, but hasn’t finished in the top 10 since a tie for fourth at January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Timms could still pick up a few more big names Friday since the deadline to commit is Friday night.

The event has done a great job of attracting players the week before the Masters by setting the course up with quick greens and recreating the quick green speeds and special mowing. The course has different turf than Augusta National, but the similarities help players prepare.

But Houston loses that spot in 2019. Next year, San Antonio’s Valero Texas Open will be the week before the Masters. It’s all part of a schedule shakeup for next season that will include moving the PLAYERS Championship to March and the PGA Championship to May.

And Houston? The full schedule has yet to be determined, but Houston would be played sometime after the Masters.

“We’re just not sure how deep into the spring we’ll be,’’ Timms said.

No matter what, Timms plans to put on a great show in Houston next week.

See you next week – at the Houston Open.




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Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

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