The old saying for those who’ve relocated to the Lone Star state is “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”
That’s certainly the case for Lanny Wadkins, a Virginia native who has maintained a residence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for decades.
It’s no surprise Wadkins has felt at home in the DFW — his second PGA Tour victory, one that solidified his standing as one of the game’s great emerging players, came at the 1973 Byron Nelson Classic when he edged Dan Sikes in a playoff.
We caught up with Wadkins earlier this week in Dallas at a Golfweek Raters event at Las Colinas Country Club.
Golfweek: Tell us your memories of that 1973 victory at the Byron Nelson (then played at Preston Trail Golf Course):
Lanny Wadkins: I won in ’72, which was my rookie year. I won in Las Vegas, and for my first win, I’d beaten Arnold Palmer by a shot, so then here at the Nelson, I was playing well coming in. I’d finished fifth the week before the Tournament of Champions in La Costa. So, I knew I was playing well. I came here and had a great week driving the ball. The last day was really windy. I was three back then I think I birdied five of the last seven holes on the last day and thought I’d won the thing, but Dan Sikes holed about a 40-footer from just off the back edge of the green on 18 to tie me.
Then I won on the first sudden-death hole, which was 15 back then. They went to 15 because that’s where TV started.
GW: What did that win mean for you?
LW: I was playing really well. In fact, I went to Houston next week and finished third, so I had a fifth, a first and a third right in a row as a 23-year-old.
So it kind of put me up there. I finished fifth on the money list that year. I finished 10th my first year, which was technically supposed to be my senior year at Wake Forest, since I left a year early. I was 10th on the money list and so it worked out well. But like with anything — you go through something where you’re feeling your way through.
Lanny Wadkins talks to a group of Golfweek Raters during an event at Las Colina Country Club. Wadkins won the 1973 Byron Nelson Classic. (Photo by Tim Schmitt/Golfweek)
GW: To win in your sophomore season on the Tour, did you kind of feel like, “hey, wait a minute, this isn’t a fluke. I belong here.”
LW: I mean, I felt I did anyway. I was runner-up at the Heritage in 1970 when I was U.S. Amateur champ. So I had finished second at a PGA Tour event as an amateur. I finished 13th in a U.S. Open as an amateur. So, I knew I could play before I got out there — that’s why I went out there. So I was settled in.
GW: So, now let’s come full circle. In 1983, you think you’re going to win at the Nelson again. What happened?
LW: Yeah, well that was the first year they moved it (to TPC-Las Colinas). I played well there a number of times. And when it went to Las Colinas, I finished top two or three several times.
I lost to Payne Stewart by a shot one year (in 1990) and in ’83, the first year we moved the Nelson to Las Colinas. I actually had the 54-hole lead. I’d won at La Costa in the Tournament of Champions. I won that so I was coming in here thinking, you know, I was playing well, they just moved the tournament.
I knew the course. I had the 54-hole lead. You know, I thought I might take down back-to-back wins, but I didn’t do it. Ben Crenshaw played great on the final day and I think I ended up finishing third. That’s one I really thought I had.
GW: So when a tournament like this keeps moving — and it’s in its first year at TPC Craig Ranch — does that lose its luster for you, personally? Or doesn’t it really matter?
LW: I think they’ve been trying to figure it out. I think, you know, they had to move away from Preston Trail. We didn’t have the room for anything out there anymore. We had no room for parking. The neighborhood was growing up. The size of the venue wasn’t large enough and the footprint got much larger at Las Colinas because eventually, they had 36 holes of this so that gave them ample room and they even used both courses during the tournament several times. It gave them other venues for pro-ams and they had plenty of room out there for corporate hospitality, so it all worked, you know. The corporate hospitality is a big part of it today, you’ve got to take that into consideration when you’re planning a PGA Tour event.
I was surprised by the move to Trinity Forest and I’m not surprised by the move out to Craig Ranch. I believe Craig Ranch — it’s a Tom Weiskopf course — it’s a very good straightforward golf course. I think it’s going to be an excellent venue for the tournament. I think the players will love it. Right down the road in Frisco there’s hotels, there’s restaurants, there’s, you know, 10 to 15 minutes away there’s everything in the world you could want, so I think all in all it’s a wonderful spot for the tournament.
Lanny Wadkins on the range on Wednesday during the PNC Father/Son Challenge at The Ritz Carlton Golf Club of Orlando.
GW: You now have an interesting perspective, you were a player at a time when it was all about the golf course, pure and simple. People came to tournaments for the course. Now, it’s much more about the staging and the hospitality and TV. Do you see a difference in the way players treat their schedules?
LW: The players are still coming because of the golf course and how they how the course suits them. The players themselves aren’t coming because of the hospitality, right? I mean now this with the Nelson, it’ll be a bigger venue, a bigger show on Tour, if you will. Like Phoenix, for example, is sometimes it’s a show. It’s a happening.
GW: Would you have changed your schedule if you played today?
LW: My schedule always revolved around if I liked the golf course. Did I play it well? I mean when you get down to the bottom line, it’s a business and you’ve got to make money. I’m not going to go someplace where I miss the cut every year. That doesn’t make sense to go spend $5,000 of your own money to make nothing, right?
So I mean even here in Dallas when I was living here, I was having a run at Colonial where I just played horribly. I love the golf course, but I played terrible at Colonial. I missed the cut every year. So finally, in ’86 and ’87, I just didn’t play Colonial. Even though I was here, I didn’t play Colonial. I went back in ’88 and won. I hadn’t made the cut there in forever but I needed a break from it. And I went back an ’88 and won, and then played good there from then on.
GW: How come?
LW: I have no idea. I love the course. I like the grasses. I mean, I’m here. I just went over there the first year back in ’88 and had a good first round, I think I shot a 67, and was like now I can shoot a score here. And that’s all I needed. I just needed to know that I could and then it was OK.
I shot a 65 in the last round and won it.