The PGA Tour travels to Dallas this week for the playing of the HP Byron Nelson Championship at the Four Seasons Resort and Club.
In 2011 at this tournament, a star was born, as then-little-known Tour rookie Keegan Bradley defeated Ryan Palmer in a playoff for his first win. Just a few months later, Bradley would win in a playoff at the PGA Championship, becoming just the third player in history to win a major in his first start.
Before the start of the tournament, we caught up with Four Seasons Resort and Club PGA Director of Golf Paul Earnest for a little Q&A.
PGA.com: Thanks for joining us, as always, Paul. Your tournament last year turned out to be the introduction of a star in golf, with then rookie Keegan Bradley winning his first PGA Tour event. A few months later at the PGA Championship, Bradley joined Francis Ouimet and Ben Curtis as just the third player in the game's history to win a major in his first try. What is it about Keegan and his game that's most impressive to you?
Earnest: First, it has to start with his length. It's so impressive to see how far he can drive the ball. We have an event for our private membership after the tournament where we chart out every shot that the Champion hits in the final round, so we all get a first hand look at each tee shot. Wow!
Second, I admire his consistency. It just never looks like he is going to make a bogey, his game is sharp in all phases.
Finally, you have to give him credit to be a closer. As a rookie, for him to be in contention and win here and at the PGA Championship has to be noted as an impressive feat.
PGA.com: Byron Nelson would have turned 100 years old on February 4. From what I understand, the HP Byron Nelson Championship will have some special things going on to celebrate his legacy during tournament week. Can you tell our readers about that?
Earnest: For starters, the Salesmanship Club of Dallas has had a social media campaign for the 100 days leading up to the tournament with 100 facts about Mr. Nelson. With that, there has been a campaign to "Do the Byron" to engage spectators to pose in various locations with the pose of his statue. There is also a special section in the Tournament Program. At the tournament entrance, there's a museum quality special tribute to Mr. Nelson, featuring memorabilia and rare photographs.
In the HP Tech Zone, there's an interactive touchscreen video tribute. On each of the 18 holes signage there is a fact about Byron Nelson and his career. Annually, there are two awards presentations that are given that help perpetuate his legacy: The Byron Nelson International Junior Golf Award has four recipients this year and the Byron Nelson Prize will be awarded to Nancy Lopez this year.
Finally, each of the volunteers of the event will be given a special pin paying tribute to Byron's 100th.
PGA.com: For the first time since 2007, Phil Mickelson is in this year's field one week after his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Throughout his career, Mickelson has been known as a modern-day Arnold Palmer with his go-for-broke approach to the game, but most of all his relationship with the fans. How important is Mickelson to the game?
Earnest: Phil is a fantastic ambassador for the PGA Tour and more broadly, the game of golf. His style of play leads him to be a fan favorite but it's the way he handles the day to day that is remarkable. The comparison with Mr. Palmer in how they take time to touch the fans, sign countless autographs for kids, treat the game with respect, is more important than their similar on-course approach to me. I heard that he was so moved by the Hall of Fame ceremonies that he has vowed never to miss another one. Now that is showing a respect for the game at a level that most really appreciate.
We are excited to have Phil come back this year. He's a favorite amongst all of our employees because he and Amy have been so kind over the years.
PGA.com: The winning mark last year -- actually, the mark to get into a playoff -- was 3-under 277. Looking back on the recent history of the tournament, that was quite high. Should we expect something similar this year, or were the conditions the biggest reason for the higher scores in 2011?
Earnest: The greatest defense our course has, or most these days, is wind.
Last year, the wind was fairly extreme, even for this part of the country this time of year. While the players never complained, it was very hard to control the ball and score. The conditions this spring have been much milder and I would expect that for tournament week as well. I look for the winning score to be about 12-under par this year.
PGA.com: What do you enjoy most about heading to work as the PGA Director of Golf at Four Seasons Resort and Club each day?
Earnest: The Four Seasons is a tremendous company to work for. The people at virtually every position that I get to work with make it a pleasure to be here everyday. I really enjoy having a relationship with the private membership while welcoming guests from all over the world. The diversity of that business model presents new challenges almost daily for me.