Astros owner Jim Crane is all in on the Houston Open and making his city a force in the PGA world. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz and Haley Ortiz embraced after he shocked the golf world. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Whitney Crane, Carlos Ortiz and Jim Crane enjoy a trophy moment at the Houston Open. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Could Memorial Park one day host a Major? Jim Crane thinks so. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz and his wife Haley enjoyed his first career PGA Tour win. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Whitney Crane, Jim Crane, Carlos Ortiz and Vivint CEO Todd Pederson pose after Ortiz's two shot victory. (Courtesy photo)
Memorial Park proved to a championship worthy setting. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Hideki Matsuyama shot a seven-under 63. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Fans brought plenty to the Houston Open. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jason Day could not hold it together in the final round. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Memorial Park could hold many more fans than the 10,000 or so allowed in over the four days of the Houston Open. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz never faltered under the pressure, birding two of the last three holes to win the Houston Open at 13 under. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dustin Johnson looms larger than ever now. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Sepp Straka found trouble at the Houston Open. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Hideki Matsuyama is a consistent force in golf. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Houston Open more than lived up to expectations in its return to Memorial Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz always stayed cool, even as some of the world's best players drew closer. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dustin Johnson brings an intimidation factor. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz becomes the first Mexican golfer to win on the PGA Tour in 42 years. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz stared down some of the biggest names in golf to win. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz and his wife Haley will never forget their time in Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Whitney Crane, Jim Crane, Carlos Ortiz and Vivint CEO Todd Pederson pose after Ortiz's two shot victory at the 2020 Houston Open. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz finally had his trophy moment. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz is the third player from Mexico to win a PGA Tour event — and he clearly connected with fans. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Fans are back and the PGA Tour is better for it. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Whitney Crane, Jim Crane, Carlos Ortiz and Vivint CEO Todd Pederson pose after Ortiz's two shot victory. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Ortiz and his wife Halley had some sweet moments after his first career win. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The fan calls out from just off the 18th green as Jim Crane prepares for a trophy moment. “Jim Crane! Pay Springer! Give him what he wants! Pay Springer!” No sports owner in recent Houston times has done more than Jim Crane. But delivering the Houston Astros’ first championship ever and saving the Houston Open golf tournament does not stop fans from always wanting more.
So yes, Crane gets a few people shouting at him to resign George Springer, the iconic Astro who’s a free agent, while he’s at Memorial Park for a golf tournament. That’s to be expected. It goes with the territory — and Crane’s never been one to just say some empty platitudes to the media to appease fans.
Besides this is a day to celebrate the beyond successful return of the Houston Open to within the city limits. Carlos Ortiz of Mexico will go into the books as the official winner of this 2020 Houston Open. And Ortiz gets to take the $1.26 million first place check home.
But the true winners just may be Memorial Park, this reimagined Tom Doak designed $34 million course that more than stands up to the world’s best, the city of Houston and local golf fans. For year one of the Houston Open’s return to Memorial Park goes so well that it already raises the possibility of even grander things in the future.
“I’m always thinking big,” Crane says. “We think we could set this course up to be a U.S . Open or a PGA (Championship) or something. That would really be fun. But that will take a little time.”
This first Houston Open at Memorial Park in 57 years benefits from the fact that the coronavirus rescheduled Masters is next week. But if that helps bring the big names to Houston, the golf course more than stands up to moment. Long before Ortiz birdies 16 and 18 to beat the No. 1 ranked player in the world, Dustin Johnson, and a late charging Hideki Matsuyama (who shoots a final round 63) by two shots, Memorial Park proves it’s much, much more than some silly season golf course.
It’s championship worthy. In fact, Memorial Park’s fast greens and approach shot challenges are daunting enough that PGA Tour officials never even come close to setting up the course to play at its full length. That would be too difficult the week before The Masters.
It turns out this Memorial Park muni has more championship level bite to still show. Someday. A day that you can be certain that Crane and Astros Golf Foundation president Giles Kibbe are already methodically building towards.
“We always like to think big,” Crane says in a private interview on the side after the public trophy presentation. “It’d be great to have a Major here in Houston at one point if we can earn it.”
The Jim Crane Way
Crane, a rare true self-made billionaire, has a way of getting audacious dreams done. Many did not think the Houston Open could be saved at all before the Astros owner stepped in. Now, just one tournament into its return to being played within the city, it’s already drawing some serious golf buzz.
“It’s turned out better than I could have imagined,” says four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka, who made a sizzling front nine run at the lead before settling for back-to-back 65s and a tie for fifth place at 8 under overall.
Koepka is talking about the Memorial Park course itself. But many of the PGA Tour players also left impressed with Houston — and the first class way the event was run. This did not feel like just another forgettable fall tournament.
“The volunteers treated us amazing this week,” Ortiz says.
It helps that Crane is the rare rich guy who not only enjoys golf but also understands what it takes to play the game at a very high level. A near scratch golfer, Crane was rated the No. 1 CEO golfer in the country by Golf Digest back when the publication still did those rankings. And his love for the game comes through on this day.
Crane changes into a sports jacket and dress pants for the trophy ceremony. This is not just some regular sports coat either. The Houston Open logo is strikingly showcased in the interior lining. Crane’s wife Whitney is right there with him for the trophy presentation, too. At one point, Crane even calls the couple’s young son, James Robert Crane II, over. This golf tournament isn’t just another business venture for Jim Crane. It’s something personal, too.
It clearly meant something to Crane to have a PGA Tour event back inside the city of Houston. He gets a kick out of the fact that any golfer with the patience to get a tee time can enjoy this championship level course, too. During the trophy fun, Crane jokes to Ortiz that “It’s $38, come back anytime.”
That is the modest greens fee required to play Houston’s reimagined municipal golf course jewel.
“We got a lot of compliments,” Crane says when I ask if he received any feedback from the coronavirus limited crowd while walking around the course. “A lot of it was change from what people are used to. It’s really setup to be a PGA course now. The setup. The length of the course. Some of the hazards. The finishing holes.”
By the time the sun set on Memorial Park Sunday night, many of the big names in the field — including Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka — are already in the air on private jets speeding to Augusta. But the Houston impact of this successful return will go on for years. Right into a Major golf future.
“Today was the first test of that,” Crane says. “And we’re glad we passed that.”
Houston’s golf future suddenly looks brighter — and possibly bigger — than ever. Jim Crane’s shining the light. Don’t be surprised if others start following.