Bill Clinton blends in, belongs in the desert

Former President Bill Clinton poses with volunteers on the first tee of the Humana Challenge on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. Gary Player is at the far left. (Denise Goolsby, The Desert Sun)

Former President Bill Clinton poses with volunteers on the first tee Thursday. Gary Player is at the far left. (Denise Goolsby, The Desert Sun)

Last year, as a spectator, I got to shake Bill Clinton’s hand – the first presidential handshake of my life – on a blustery day at the Humana Challenge. He was coming off the driving range and I jockeyed into what I thought would be a good position to see the 42nd president up close.

He smiled as he walked by and accepted my outstretched hand as I thanked him for his service to the country. He said thank you, and moved down the line to greet the next well-wisher. I remember his piercing blue eyes and warm, soft hand.

I was awestruck for awhile.

Everyone else in the crowd seemed equally starstruck by the very presence of Clinton.

Fast forward to 2013.

I tagged along — as a working journalist this time — as Clinton made his appearance at the first tee ceremony on the Palmer Private course at PGA West, then headed to the driving range to shake hands and pose for pictures with pro golfers, caddies, and volunteers.

The crowd gathered near the driving range snapped photos, shot video, and watched as he leisurely made his way down the line of golfers smacking monster tee-shots deep into range.

When Clinton appeared at the Humana Challenge in 2012 – the first year of tournament’s partnership with the Clinton foundation – his presence was a novelty. A former leader of the free world was throwing his name and the weight of his global organization behind the tournament that Bob Hope built.

This year, the mood was more relaxed, as Clinton – who is now becoming a very familiar face at events across the valley – strolled through Hope Square waving and greeting volunteers.

Bill blends in well with desert. He’s laid back, warm, and has a bright, sunny personality. It’s like he’s always been here.