50 Year Colonial Flashback: Playing Firm and Fast Blancas Wins Colonial
By Pat Wheeler, Special to Charles Schwab Challenge Pat Wheeler is the golf correspondent for the Tyler Morning Telegram and he hosts a weekly radio show, Texas Links on the Air. Photo: (left to right) Jacky Cupit, Pat Wheeler, Homero Blancas and Roy Pace. Homero, Jacky and Roy - are all East Texas golf legends known as “The Three Amigos.” The trio played in 33 Colonials (Homero 17, Cupit 11 and Pace 5).
FORT WORTH -- In this year of the pandemic, with life sometimes seeming like part of a science fiction movie, it's easy to overlook a piece of history or noteworthy event.

So as the golf world looks to the PGA Tour and its historic restart at Colonial Country Club in June for the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge, the 50th anniversary of a Texan’s win at what some have called the “Texas Masters” could be one of those inadvertent oversights.

In 1970, Homero Blancas shot a closing 67 to hold off two World Golf Hall of Fame golfers, Lee Trevino and Gene Littler, by a single shot. It was the second of four career wins on tour for the Houston native.

Known as Mr. 55 for his ridiculously low round in a 1962 amateur event near Longview, Blancas was home and spray painting some deck chairs on his patio near Champions Golf Club when I caught up with him in late March. Now 82, he is still an enthusiastic teacher of the game, especially the short game.

“Today is my 53rd wedding anniversary,” Blancas said. “We usually go to a fancy steak place but are going to stay home this year and eat good seafood that I can pick up close by. That will save me a little money."

Always fun and upbeat, Blancas acknowledged that getting Noel to marry him may be the only thing more impressive than shooting a 55 or winning at Colonial.

“We met at the New Orleans Open when I was just out on tour I knew right away that she was the one for me," Blancas said. "We dated for about a year before we got married."

Though he was rookie of the year in 1965, Blancas did not win for the first time until the Greater Seattle-Everett Classic in 1966. He did not win the next couple of years and then had a playoff loss to Larry Ziegler in the Michigan Classic in 1969. But he was making money and arrived at Colonial in May of 1970 brimming with confidence.

“The course was playing firm and fast and that helped me,” Blancas said. “In many ways, it came down to who was best with the wedge and the putter and that was my strength in those days. It kind of came down to Trevino and Littler and they were both great wedge players and putters, too. Well, Littler, he was just good at everything.”

In his winning effort in 1970, Blancas played Colonial better than anyone had played it at that time with the exception of Clayton Heafner, who won in 1948, the third year of the tournament. Heafner demolished par that year with all of his rounds in the 60s for an 8-under 272, six better than runner-up Ben Hogan. Heafner had to wait until 1950 to defend his title as the 1949 tournament was canceled due to a flood. The added year to wait was not good for Heafner as he went from best to worst, finishing 35th in a field of only 35 players.

Blancas became the second man to shoot all of his rounds in the 60s in 1970 with rounds of 69-68-69 to go with his closing 67 on Sunday for 273, seven under par, and one better than Trevino and Littler. Hogan shot a 69 the opening round but faded to a tie for 56th. At age 57, it was Hogan’s final competitive appearance at the tournament he won a record five times. Blancas had been building a nice record at Colonial by the time of the 1970 event. It was his 6th time to play with a tie for 11th his best effort in 1967. He first played in 1963 as an amateur after an impressive college career at the University of Houston. The son of the greens superintendent at River Oaks Country Club in Houston, Blancas learned to play as a toddler and was known for his prowess around the green.

A top Texas amateur player for years, the late Jimmy Wheeler of Dallas said he remembered watching Blancas coming down the stretch to win at Colonial.

“He had his ball just into the right rough on the 17th and hit a remarkable shot that landed short of the green and ran up onto the surface,” Wheeler said. “That landing area between those two bunkers was no more than 20 or so feet. I was the only one clapping in the gallery and Homero looked back and smiled."

Blancas said landing a ball short of the green and allowing it to bounce up onto the green was a standard play for him on southern courses with Bermuda grass and said he always played the long par 3 fourth hole at Colonial that way. "I had seen Hogan and others land the ball about 10 to 15 yards short on that hole because that was really the only way to get the ball on the green," Blancas said.

After winning at Colonial, Blancas had his best run on tour with wins at Phoenix in 1972 and Pensacola in 1973. He played on what many consider the best US Ryder Cup team ever in 1973 when the Americans prevailed at Muirfield in Scotland. On that team were Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Tom Weiskopf and Trevino, with Jackie Burke the captain.

Blancas capped his career with a win in his hometown at the Doug Sanders Kingwood Celebrity Classic in 1989 on the PGA Tour Champions. But his most significant win was the 1970 Colonial.

“I learned how to go around Colonial and it suited me nicely,” Blancas said. “I hooked everything but on the holes that bend to the right, I never tried to do too much.” Blancas' strategy worked to perfection that May of 1970.