Newcomers Rise, Locals Fall at Nelson

McKINNEY — This year’s edition of the rebranded CJ Cup Byron Nelson was perhaps most noteworthy for who wasn’t in the field.

Scottie Scheffler, the world’s top-ranked golfer and hometown favorite, skipped the PGA Tour stop for the first time in his pro career to be with his wife, Meredith, as they prepare to welcome their first child.

Aside from the former Highland Park standout’s absence, fellow Park Cities resident Will Zalatoris was a late withdrawal due to a back injury.

Jordan Spieth, the perennial crowd favorite and Jesuit Dallas legend, struggled in part due to a sore wrist and failed to make the cut in his 12th career start at the Nelson. Former HP standout Cody Gribble and SMU alum Austin Smotherman weren’t around on the weekend, either.

One player with local ties who shined was Kelly Kraft, the former SMU player and Tour journeyman who remained in contention for the first three rounds before finishing in a tie for 13th place, six strokes behind champion Taylor Pendrith of Canada.

“Everything kind of clicked this week,” said Pendrith, who earned $1.7 million for his first victory in 74 Tour starts. “I think all aspects of my game were very solid. So it gives me tons of confidence moving forward.”

Without any full-time exemptions into Tour events, Kraft has spent all year as a conditional player, meaning he often must draw into events as an alternate.

“It’s been kind of a struggle to get in tournaments this year,” Kraft said. “But I’ve been shooting some great scores at home and been staying ready, working with my coach a bunch. I need to make the most of my opportunities.”

Scheffler would have been the overwhelming favorite to claim his first Nelson crown thanks to a remarkable run of form that includes a Masters title in April and four Tour victories in the past two months overall.

“I think he’s a better person than he is a player, and I’m nothing but extremely excited and happy for him. It’s well deserved and all that,” Spieth said. “And then on the flip side, like it’s kind of the first time I’ve ever looked at somebody younger than me and I’ve driven inspiration. Like I am inspired by what he is doing. It makes me want to go out and get better, and that’s always been someone that’s older than me. Kind of the first time I felt that way about somebody that’s younger.”

The two local stars, who have remained close throughout their careers, have kept Dallas at the top of the golf world for the better part of a decade.

“Because I play a decent amount of rounds with him here in town, I’m constantly seeing it and trying to beat him at home, and when he’s playing better than I am, it sucks,” Spieth said. “I don’t enjoy it when I’m side-by-side because there were however many years of our life it wasn’t that way.”

Gribble, who was teammate of Spieth’s at the University of Texas, played this week on a sponsor’s exemption. The left-hander finished at 70-73—143, or 1-over par, in his fourth start of the year.

The tournament also featured the debut of Kris Kim, a 16-year-old amateur from England who became the youngest player to make the cut in a Tour event in nine years. He also became the youngest to qualify for the weekend at the Nelson — breaking a mark set by Spieth in 2010.

“I was happy with how I played and feel like there is definitely some stuff I can improve on,” Kim said. “It’s been quite a bit of adrenaline and everything, so, yeah, it’s been really good. It just makes me want to come back even more.”

Share this article...
Email this to someone
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.