News from Around the Green

The latest golf-related news, notes, and feature stories from the TGA.

Bret Gray Leads 114th Texas Amateur after Round 1

HOCKLEY – There are numerous ways to construct a successful gameplan for elite competitive championships such as the 114th Texas Amateur. Bret Gray from San Antonio found something that works for him, and he used it to shoot a sizzling 5-under-par 66 on Thursday at The Clubs at Houston Oaks. That was good for a one-shot lead after 18 holes at the state’s oldest and most prestigious amateur championship.

“I just played simple golf,” said Gray, who poured in five birdies and an eagle against two bogeys. “I took advantage of the par 5s and the downwind holes. I didn’t hit it phenomenally, but I got up and down when I had to.”

A sophomore at Sam Houston State and the 2022-23 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Gray understated his performance on the par 5s at Houston Oaks. More accurately, he blitzed them with three birdies and an eagle to go 5-under on those four holes. He said his affinity for the golf course only increased after Thursday.

“Houston Oaks is awesome, said Gray, a two-time collegiate winner who posted six top-10s last season. “It’s a great venue for the Texas Am. It’s in great condition; the greens are rolling great. The course is kind of penal, though. You can put yourself in some bad spots and make some big scores, but if you keep it on the right side of the hole, you’ll be OK.”

One shot behind Gray is Plano’s Ethan Fang, who shot an impressive 4-under 67. The incoming California-Berkeley freshman was the runner-up at last month’s Class 6A Individual State Championship for Plano West High School.

Fang started his round on Hole 10 and promptly birdied five of the holes on the back nine of Houston Oaks.

“I hit the ball really good today,” said Fang, who skipped his Wednesday practice round at Houston Oaks and instead qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur in Granbury. “I think I hit every fairway. Other than that, it was just a good round of ball striking. My putting was good, too. It’s a fun course to play.”

Alex Papayouanou from The Woodlands sits two shots back at 3-under 68. The incoming UCLA freshman recently won the District 13-6A individual championship for The Woodlands High School.

He started on Hole 10, and after a double bogey on the par-5 16th, Papayouanou finished his first nine holes at 2-over par.

“Once I got to the turn,” he said, “I just turned it on.”

Papayoanou rolled in a birdie on the par-4 third hole, then cashed in an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He added birdies on the par-3 seventh and par-5 eighth to get to 3-under overall.

“It was a grind out there today,” he said. “I’ve been hitting it well, though, and I’m really happy with how I played today.”

Five players share fourth place at 2-under 69 after the first round. That group includes Garrett Leek from Brock, Connor Adams from Dallas, Luke Dossey from Austin, Joe Stover from Dallas, and Joey Gullion from Spring.

Typical for this time of year, the heat was a factor at the 114th Texas Amateur, which is a walking-only event.

By 1 p.m., the mercury showed 93 degrees, but the heat index pushed up to 101. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for most of Southeast Texas, including Hockley and the vast Houston Oaks property.

“You’re sweating so much that you’re losing grip of the club,” said Chris Wheeler, the 2022 North Texas Player of the Year who shot a 1-under 70 on Thursday. “You’re trying to conserve your energy and stay hydrated as best you can. I’ve played in this event enough times to know the heat and the walking have a cumulative effect. By the time Day 4 rolls around, you really start to feel it.”

The temperature climbed to 97 degrees by 3 p.m., with a heat index of 108. Even as late in the afternoon as 6 p.m., it was still 95 degrees with a triple-digit heat index. The cloud cover from the morning burned away, leaving the competitors exposed to the oppressive sun for much of the afternoon. The wind kicked up a bit, too. It was a steady 10-15 mph, with gusts up to 25 mph as the day wore on.

C.J. Brock, one of the more experienced mid-amateurs in the field, said the heat took a toll on him physically and mentally.

“Honestly, I don’t know if it’s possible to drink enough fluids while you’re on the golf course,” said C.J. Brock, who shot a 1-over 72. “But it’s also much more of a mental challenge. You start to lose it mentally before you lose it physically. I had some shots today, like on the short par-3 fifth hole, where I just couldn’t get comfortable. It was because of the heat.”

Sitting at the center of the sprawling, nearly 1,200-acre property, the golf course is the crown jewel of Houston Oaks, a multi-faceted club that also features a shooting range, a six-court tennis club, pickleball courts, wine club, fishing club, and a swim club. There’s also a baseball field, an equestrian club, and a hen house that produces farm-fresh eggs to its world-class dining facilities.

In short, it’s an amazing club that literally has something for everyone.

Once known as Tennwood Country Club in the 1950s, the course was a private facility for the employees of Tenneco Oil & Gas. The club was bought by three Houston families in the mid-2000s and received a massive, multimillion dollar renovation in 2016-17 by acclaimed architect Chet Williams, formerly of Jack Nicklaus Design.

The result was a spectacular, 7,007-yard, par-71 masterpiece that weaves around – and sometimes through – massive, centuries-old oak trees, of which there are more than 1,000 on the property. Certain holes, such as the 16th and 17th, feature gigantic oaks in the fairway that require thoughtful planning or specific shot shapes to avoid.

In addition to several natural water features, another one of Houston Oaks’ defenses is the widespread native areas covered in Bahia grass. In the same family as the ultra-sticky Paspalum grass, the Bahia at Houston Oaks stands about knee-high length and is as thick as cold spaghetti.

“Luckily, I avoided hitting it in there today,” Wheeler said. “I did go in there for a couple ball searches, though. Good luck finding anything in there. You have to step on it or get lucky somehow. Most likely, it’s gone.”

This week marks the second time Houston Oaks has opened its door to a TGA major championship. It also welcomed the Texas Mid-Amateur in 2021. In addition, Houston Oaks hosted the 2018 Texas Shootout, 2020 Jackie Burke Cup, multiple U.S. Women’s Open qualifiers, and the 2022 and ’23 Big 12 Conference Match Play Championship.

A total of 16 players broke par for Round 1. Another 14 competitors are within six shots of Gray at 1-over 71, including Trey Bosco, who won the 111th Texas Amateur in 2020.

Award Show

During Wednesday night’s exceptional Players’ Reception at Houston Oaks, the TGA honored last season’s top players, as well as two standout volunteers.

Colleyville’s Zach Atkinson received the night’s biggest award. The longtime amateur stalwart and TGA Director picked up a beautiful bronze 2022 Texas Player of the Year trophy for his consistent, elite performances last summer. Atkinson finished second at the 2022 Texas Mid-Amateur and was a semifinalist at the Texas Mid-Amateur Match Play. He also tied for fourth place at the 113th Texas Amateur, a championship he won back in 2004.

Wheeler took home the 2022 North Texas Player of the Year award. Wheeler won the North Texas Four-Ball with his partner Bobby Massa. Wheeler finished fourth at the North Texas Mid-Amateur, tied for fifth at the North Texas Amateur, and was solo sixth at the 2022 West Texas Amateur.

Boosted by a victory at the South Texas Amateur, Austin’s Dan Depasquale won the 2022 South Texas Player of the Year. He also tied for eighth at the West Texas Amateur and shared a piece of ninth place at the South Texas Four-Ball with his partner Jermaine Rakoczy.

Ed Rapp from Houston was honored as the 2022 South Texas Volunteer of the Year, and Ken Renwick from Dallas picked up the 2022 North Texas Volunteer of the Year. The volunteers are the lifeforce that make TGA Championships possible. It’s their hard work and tireless dedication that create memorable and exciting experiences for the players. We can never thank Rapp, Renwick, and all their colleagues for their help.

By the Numbers

1 – This is the first time Houston Oaks has played host to the Texas Amateur.

4 – There are four past Texas Amateur champions in the field, including Atkinson (2004), Austin’s Trey Bosco (2020), Pottsboro’s Austyn Reily (2021), and defending 2022 champion Holden Wisener from Dallas.

4, part 2 – There are four sets of brothers playing in the 114th Texas Amateur: Aiden and Deacon Dortch, Luke and Sam Dossey, Hayes and Holden Hamilton, and Trevor and Trenton Mierl.

5 – Houston Oaks boasts five par 3s, making precise iron play crucial. The holes range in length during the 114th Texas Amateur from 115 yards to 240 yards. “The par 3s are tough out here,” said Gray, the leader after Round 1. “Even the shortest hole of the day. I bogeyed it, and it was only playing 117 yards. If you play the par 3s good this week, I feel like you have a pretty good chance.”

16 – The youngest player in the field this week is 16-year-old Finn Burkholder from The Woodlands. There are three other 16-year-olds playing this week, as well.

26.2 – The average age in this year’s championship.

54 – This year’s eldest statesman is 54-year-old Bill Skorheim from Spring. There are no senior amateurs in the field, a scenario that hasn’t happened in several years.

144 – A full field of 144 players comprises this year’s championship.

1,176 – A record number of amateur golfers registered to qualify for this year’s Texas Amateur. The 1,176 entries surpassed the 1,010 accepted at the 111th Texas Amateur in 2020 at Boot Ranch in Fredericksburg.

Next Up

Round 2 of 114th Texas Amateur begins Friday at 7:30 a.m. For more information, including complete scoring, click here.