It's Texas two-step time on the PGA Tour as many of the world's top players travel to Dallas this week for the HP Byron Nelson Championship, followed up next week by the Colonial in Fort Worth.
Played at the TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas (just miles from Dallas), the HP Byron Nelson Championship is one event all players want to win because it’s named after one of the game's legends.
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Jason Dufner returns to the HP Byron Nelson Championship as the defending champion where he's hoping to find his stride having not recorded a single top-10 finish in 11 starts this season.
Before the tournament teed off on Thursday, we caught up with Paul Earnest, the PGA Director of Golf at the Four Seasons Resort for a little Q&A. Earnest talked about Dufner, Mr. Nelson and 14-year-old Chinese star in the making Guan Tianlang, who is making his third PGA Tour start this season.
PGA.com: We appreciate you taking some time to chat with us, Paul. Your defending champion is Jason Dufner. He had an incredible 2012 season. People talk about how important it is to keep an even keel on the golf course -- don't get too high, don't get too low. It doesn't seem as though that's ever an issue for Dufner! Dufner's approach wouldn't work for everyone, but there's no doubt it works for him. Can you talk a little about his on-course demeanor and why you think it's helped him be so successful?
Earnest: To me, Jason just plays to his own comfort. He's comfortable with himself and that is the best mindset to play your best. If and when we get outside of ourselves is when mistakes happen that leads to poor golf. When he won here last year there were so many positives going on in his life. He was playing well, he was in the midst of getting married, and these things led to his confidence peaking. I heard him say that he knew he was going to make that putt on the last hole -- and that was no lay-up -- 25 feet or so that broke about a foot. It was awesome!
PGA.com: One of the great stories of 2013 has been the rise of 14-year-old Guan Tianlang from China. He'll be playing in the HP Byron Nelson Championship, looking to make his third cut in as many starts. How do you wrap your head around what this 14-year-old is accomplishing at such a high level -- the highest level?
Earnest: I was fortunate to play a match with him the other day that I really enjoyed. Most young golfers with this type of success are all "ahead of their time, maturity-wise" and I can attest to the same. He has a quiet air that he knows he belongs in this arena. He manages his game so well. We had a hard wind out of the north when we played and he went around in 1 over without doing anything real special. The best part of his game was simply adding the strokes at the end of the day. He was a pleasure to play with.
PGA.com: Your tournament is named after one of the all-time legends in golf, Mr. Byron Nelson. It's hard to believe that Mr. Nelson passed nearly seven years ago. His presence is still so strong during tournament week. Can you tell us what it's like to be associated with an event named after one of the greats?
Earnest: Byron created a legacy that will outlive us all in relation to what he stood for and in association with this tournament. His example is still fresh on all of our minds on how we operate day-to-day and we are proud that his statue and his personal effects are the central themes of our golf operation. I miss him as a friend and mentor but I still receive inspiration from his character.
PGA.com: Is there one single aspect of tournament week that you most look forward to? If so, what is it?
Earnest: Thematically, I love the mornings. I love seeing the golf course in the early morning light when it is freshly prepared. It's a beautiful scene that gets repeated many of the days.
For a competitive atmosphere, I love the drama at the finishing holes -- the reachable par-5 16, the picturesque downhill par-3 17th, and the signature 18th around the waterfalls. Sit and watch groups at any of these three holes and you will see lots of varying shots riddled with both great success and bitter disappointment.
The course sets up for a tournament finish so well. For an event, I must say I like the last putt. Watching the Champion with joy from an accomplishment of a journey has provided some great moments in the last few years.
PGA.com: What's a relatively normal, non-tournament week like at the Four Seasons Resort and Club -- one of the great resorts in the country?
Earnest: Like many clubs around the country, we try to just simply promote the game and encourage more golf. There are typically loads of activities in the form of instruction for all ages and genders, social competitions and outings from corporations, and all ranges of competitive games amongst our membership group. We are so blessed to have two great golf courses and a wide mix of players to enjoy them.