Masters week has been kind fo Humana/Hope winners

Through the years some critics outside of the desert has condemned the old Bob Hope tournament for being to easy. Good players played better on tough courses, while anyone can show up and get hot and go 30 under in the Hope, they claimed.

True enough, there has only been one golfer who ever won the Hope and the U.S. Open in the same year, and that was Arnold Palmer in 1960, the year the Hope begin as the Palm Springs Golf Classic. But plenty of golfers who won the Hope also won the U.S. Open, names like Nicklaus and Casper and Pavin and Miller and Kite.

How would a green jacket go with Brian Gay's orange shirt? (Crystal Chatham.TheDesert Sun)

The same is true of the Masters, although in that case, more players have won the desert’s PGA Tour event and the Masters in the same year. Palmer did it in 1960 and 1962, Nicklaus did it in 1963, Mike Weir did it in 2003 and Phil Mickelson did it in 2004. And of course other players have won the two tournaments at various stages of their career, including Casper and Craig Stadler.

Which lead us to Brian Gay, the reigning Humana Challenge champion. Gay has played in the Masters exactly one time, missing the cut in 2010. So there might not be that much “Hope” that Gay can pull off the Humana/Masters double.

Then again, Gay is playing some of the best golf of his career this year, and he’s paired in the first two rounds with a past Masters champion, Larry Mize. So maybe there is some Humana magic in Gay as Augusta National this week.


Humana Day 4: coronation walk or dramatic finish?

Scott Stallings has a chance to make the final round of the Humana Challenge a little bit boring today. If Stallings, who already has a five-shot lead, should go out and birdie the second and fourth holes at the Palmer Course at PGA West, he could easily be sending a message this this is not going to be anything but a coronation walk.

Stallings is fare from a certain thing today to win the tournament. There will be more difficult pins today, and there is the pressure of Sunday. For Stallings, he will be looking to win for the third time in less that three full seasons on tour. That’s pretty impressive.

Any of the five players five shots back at the start of the day could get off to a roaring start and put a little more pressure on Stallings. But they know that today is about Stallings. Will Stallings let the rest of the field back in to the event, or will he run away and hide with the Bob Hope Memorial Trophy.

We should have an answer in the first two or three holes today.


Humana Day 2: And the scoring stays low

Russell Henley may be totally unconscious these days, or maybe he is really this good.

But the man who won Sony Open last week in his first start as a tour member and who shot 64 in the first round of the Humana Challenge Thursday is 3 -under through 7 holes today and now is 11 under for the week and tied for second in the event, 1 shot behind leader Roberto Castro.

The scoring seems to be going low again today, just as it was yesterday. Perfect weather, great course conditions and great greens have something to do with it. And the talent of players has something to do with it.

Today’s “Who is he?” player is Lee Williams, a rookie on the tour who is 6-under through 10 holes on the Nicklaus Private Course and now tied for second at 11 under. A few other players made some early moves but have now fallen back.

Just walking through Hope Square and saw a group of women doing a daily working out yoga mats. I wonder what Bob Hope would have said about that?


Last warmup day for Humana warms up

One last day of frost delays at the Humana Challenge today, with the driving range at PGA  West opening up a little late and thus delaying the start of today’s Bob Hope Legacy pro-am on the Palmer Course. But everything was in good shape about an half-hour late and the pro-am is off and running.

The big new of the morning is that Phil Mickelson, a two-time local winner and easily one of the most popular golfers where he plays, has been fighting some kind of illness and has been doing very little to prepare for the tournament. Instead, he has been resting, but a spokesman told the Golf Channel that Mickelson fully intents to tee off Thursday.

With the Health Matters heath care conference over, the focus for the week now turns to the golf and the $5.6 million purse. Can Mark Wilson repeat to join Johnny Miller as desert back-to-back winners? Will Mickelson be able to play, and if he can play does he have the game to play well after being sick? Will this be the year for a veteran like David Toms or a rookie like Russell Henley?

We’ll find out starting tomorrow morning.


The issue of David Duval and a sponsor’s exemption

Suppose I told you that a player who had made the cut in just 31 percent of his PGA Tour starts in the last eight years was asking for a sponsor’s exemption into your PGA Tour event. Chances are you wouldn’t give the guy’s resume a second look.
Now suppose I told you that the player was David Duval, a 13-time winner on the tour, and that the tournament he was hoping to get in was the Humana Challenge, a tournament he won 14 years ago. Would that change your mind?

David Duval will not be in the Humana Challenge this month, he tweeted Monday (AP photo)

Monday night, Duval tweeted to the world that it was official, he would not be getting an exemption into the Humana, then questioned why the man who crafted the most famous single moment in tournament history wouldn’t get an exemption into that tournament. This morning Duval has seemed a little more understanding, telling people to support the important and historic tournament even if he is not in it.

Duval, who famously won the 1999 Bob Hope Classic with a final-round 59, is not exempt for the tournament this year. His 10-year exemption for winning the tournament ran out a few years ago, and he is not fully exempt on the tour these days because, frankly, he hasn’t played very well. There have been some circumstances, including a foot injury just this last fall that prevented him from playing in the tour’s qualifying finals. Still, it has been 10 years since his last tour win. And in the last eight years, Duval has struggled and made just 53 cuts in 169 starts since the start of the 2005 season.
On the other hand, this is David Duval, a major championship winner, a 13-time winner on the tour and the man who played the most famous round of golf in the history of the Humana/Hope with his breathtaking 59 on the Palmer Course at PGA West to overcome a seven-shot deficit to win in 1999. Heck, there is even a plaque in the middle of the fairway honoring Duval’s final-hole eagle that capped the 59.
These are the kinds of decisions a PGA Tour event has to make with their limited sponsors exemptions, some of which are qualified for tour members or Q-school grads. Dozens of letters are received by tournament each year from pros looking for a chance to play. Some are from players who have never made a name for themselves on the tour. Others are from pros who made a name for themselves once but haven’t done a lot lately, like Duval.
Tournament officials must balance the desire to help pros who have helped and supported the tournament with a desire to bring the best players to the tournament and with a desire to bring players to the event that might boost the crowd interest.
If you believe Duval’s tweet, and there is no reason not to believe he has heard the news from the tournament, the Humana Challenge officials decided that there were other ways to go with their exemptions than Duval. Duval has tweeted in the last few weeks (since joining Twitter) that his goals for the year are to stay healthy and regain his full status on tour. He was hoping for a start at the Humana and in San Diego. He knows for sure he is playing at Pebble Beach.
Some will say this is Duval’s own doing by playing so poorly he lost his exemptions. Other will say the tournament owes Duval, a past champion and an icon for his 59 round, a little more respect than turning down an exemption request.
So what would you do: reward the winner from 14 years ago, or concentrate on the guy who missed the cut in nearly 70 percent of his starts in the last eight years? Clearly there is no easy answer.

More celebrity golf trouble in Vegas: Timberlake out?

When Bob Hope was the host of the Bob Hope Classic, there were times when he had almost nothing to do with the tournament. He was a busy guy, remember, what with movies and television and touring. And there was a board of directors to win the event. But as busy as Hop was, when the tournament needed him, he was there for a luncheon or a photo op or of course the tournament itself. He took the charities, especially Eisenhower Medical Center very seriously.

That apparently hasn’t been the case in Las Vegas, at least if you listen to the people who run the tournament’s charity arm. According to a story in the Las Vegas Review Journal by Steve Carp, that tournament will be severing ties with singer/actor Justin Timberlake after this year’s event. And the reason, it seems, is there is a disconnect between Timberlake and the tournament, Shriner’s Childrens Hospitals.

Quoting from the Review-Journal story . .

“We’re a world-class organization,” (Raoul) Frevel said. “At the time we got involved with golf, we were told by the Tour we needed a big name, and that’s how our relationship with Justin came about.

“Justin’s a wonderful person. But we tried everything we could to get him more involved with our kids and the hospitals. But it seemed that when the TV cameras weren’t on, he disappeared.”

Uh, ouch!

Timberlake is hardly the only celebrity who was little more than a figure head for a tournament, although there has been no comment from Timberlake about the decision by the Shriner’s Childrens Hospitals to end their relationship. And Timberlake is hardly the first celebrity to host a golf tournament where the hope was he would bring bigger celebrities and better PGA Tour players to the event. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby could do that, but few others have succeeded. You may recall the two years George Lopez hosted the Bob Hope Classic, where there was little movement in the celebrity field and almost a step backward in the professional field. When Lopez left or was pushed out the back door at the Hope, there was talk that Timberlake would make a good replacement.

Timberlake, for at least this week, is the last celebrity to have his name on a PGA Tour event. The Vegas event is a tough sell for players, as it is part of the Fall Series and comes right after a tough run of tournaments from the PGA Championship and a WGC event in August to the FedEx Cup playoffs through the Ryder Cup. The chance of a Tiger Woods, a Luke Donald of a Phil Mickelson playing this week are pretty slim.

So it’s Bye, Bye, Bye to Justin in Las Vegas, unless something changes pretty quickly. And that might just be the last hurrah for celebrity hosts (other than Bill Clinton) on the PGA Tour.

Andy Williams one of the first celebs to put his name on a PGA Tour event

Bing Crosby lent his name to a PGA Tour event before World War II, a little tournament down in Rancho Santa Fe. After World War II, the tournament moved to Pebble Beach and became famous as the Crosby Clambake.

In 1965, Bob Hope officially put his name on the tour event in the Coachella Valley. Three years later, it was the San Diego stop that had a celebrity on the title of the event. The San Diego Open became the Andy Williams San Diego Open.

Williams, the long-time La Quinta resident who died Thursday night at his other home in Branson, Missouri, was never as identified with the game as Crosby or Hope. Still, he had a 20-year run as the host of the San Dieo tournament, bringing attention to the tour stop there and having friendships with pros. He also was a fixture in other tour pro-ams, like the Hope event. Williams told me a few years ago that there was never an agreement that, hey, I’ll play in your tournament if you play in mine among celebrities. But what celebrity, given the chance, wouldn’t want to play in a pro-am in San Diego or La Quinta?

In many ways, Williams was the example of how the celebrity host on the PGA Tour was born, grew strong and eventually drifted away. After Williams joined the San Diego tournament, people like Danny Thomas, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis. Jr. and others put there names on events. But slowly the tour and tournaments began to understand that corporations could bring them more money than celebrities, and that celebrity fame could only offer a tournament so much. In his 20 years with the San Diego event, Williams was forced to share the marquee with a furniture store, a car manufacturer and eventually a financial company. After the 1988 event, Williams name was off the tournament.

When talking to me for a book I was writing about the Bob Hope golf tournament, Williams did express frustration that he was kind of kicked to the crub by the San Diego event after 20 years of working hard to promote the tournament and putting on gala shows during the week of the event. It was a feeling many celebrities had as their names were replaced by corporations at tournaments.

But Williams remained an active member at La Quinta Country Club and he continued his highly successful singing career. He was one of the first celebrities to truly embrace the possibilities of Branson, building his own theater there, the Moon River Theater. And Williams continued to return to the desert and his beloved La Quinta Country Club.

First came Crosby, then came Hope to PGA Tour events, but Williams was just behind Hope on that list. Hopefully the golf world will remember that today.

A trip inside Sunnylands

I’m guessing there are two places in the desert most long-time residents would love to see up close and personal. One is the Bob Hope house on the ridge above Palm Springs. The other is Sunnylands.

The Hope house is not likely to be seen by most people. It is a private home, after all, even though the Hopes are no longer alive. But Sunnylands, where Walter and Leonore Annenberg lived and entertained through the years, can be seen. There are tours of the home that occur each month, and you can arrange to visit the magnificent 15-acre garden area and other parts of the property, which are open at certain times of the week.

Tuesday the players from the seven Desert Valley League golf teams had a chance to visit the nine-hole course inside Sunnylands. You can read about the entire visit here and see some more photos of the trip. And while it is fascinating to see the visitor center that is open to the public, my real questions were about the golf course that hides behind the pink walls of Sunnylands.

We know there is a golf course there, but few people know what the golf course is like. We’ve seen photos of Walter Annenberg on the course with friends like Ronald Reagan, Gearld Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bob Hope. But we know little about the course itself.

I can report this. The nine hole course can be configured into 27 different holes because of different tee boxes. That’s kind of quirky, but it works. For instance, The same fairways is used for the fourth, 10th and 13th holes. One green is used for both the second and 11th holes, though the tee boxes for the two holes are maybe 400 years apart. In fact, the only hole on the course that is used just for a single trip around the course is the first hole.

The course has six lakes, has plenty of trees but only two palm trees. Those tree were a give from President Dwight Eisenhower. Walter Annenberg didn’t want any palm trees on the property, but Eisenhower told Annenberg he had to have some palm trees on the course in the desert. The trees are called the Eisenhower trees, which is ironic, because there is an Eisenhower tree at Augusta National named for Ike only because he wanted to had the tree cut down.

There is a magnolia on the course that was a cutting from a magnolia at the White House, donated by Richard Nixon. The White House magnolia actually came Washington D.C. with Andrew Jackson, who brought the tree from the Hermitage.

And there is a totem pole on the Sunnylands course, a gift from a Canadian official who felt one of the hole needed an aiming point.

At the visitors center, there are plenty of photos of the history of the estate. There is also a large golf ball display case. I took the liberty of a few photos to show just who has played the course in the past.

Eisenhower golf ball

Hope and Nixon balls



Clinton’s DNC speech and the PGA Tour

One of the best things about former President Bill Clinton’s duties as host of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation last January was that while Clinton is a political animal, there was very little of politics at the tournament.

The message from Humana and Clinton was pretty universal: get in better shape, eat better, do a little exercise, be pro-active with your health.

What made that good is that while Clinton is respected as a former president, Clinton’s politics tend to be on the opposite side of the aisle from most PGA Tour players. Remember when Clinton was president and there was talk that the U.S. Ryder Cup team might not make a stop at the White House on the way to England because some of the U.S. players didn’t like Clinton’s tax policies? The team did go to the White House, of course, because that’s the right thing to do

Don’t get me wrong here. No player is going to skip the Humana Challenge because Bill Clinton is involved. Dates and purses and golf courses will have far more to do with the field in the end. Clinton might even help the pro field again, just as he did last year with some personal contact with players.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the PGA Tour bringing Clinton into the discussion, it is possible Humana might not have been involved as sponsor, and in that case the old Bob Hope tournament might be gone now and the desert won’t have a PGA Tour event. That is legitimately how important Clinton’s presence at the event was last January.

And I’m guessing that when the Humana Challenge rolls around next January, it will again be a-political, at least on the golf course. Oh, there might be a little politics at the health and wellness seminar held earlier in the week, but not too much.

But I also think it is fair to say that plenty of PGA Tour players didn’t break into wide smiles when they saw Clinton officially nominate President Obama at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night. Even if both Clinton and Obama are golf nuts.


Goalby brings laughs to Toscana gathering

Count 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby among those who still struggles with the new name of the desert’s PGA Tour event.

“Bill’s going to play here next week in the Bob Hope, nope, not the Bob Hope, the Humama, Bill Clinton, I can’t even say it,” Goalby said. “I’ll just say the Hope.”

Bill, in this case, is Bill Haas, Goalby’s great nephew and the reigning FedEx Cup champion. Goalby is the uncle of Jay Haas. In addition to his own stellar playing career, Goalby was a respected television commentator on the game. Thursday Goalby was the commentator on an exhibition match that Jay and Bill Haas played at Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells.

You can’t blame Goalby for still calling the desert event “the Hope.” After all, Goalby played in the tournament 15 times, starting in the inaugural year of 196 when the event wasn’t called the Hope. It was, instead, the Palm Springs Golf Classic. Goalby’s last appearance in the event was in 1976.

Goalby, 81, entertained the gallery with stories of his time playing against Sam Snead and Ben Hogan and the tough struggles of a tour pro in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Somebody said I wonder how Hogan and Snead would do against these kids today, and the other guy said I wonder how these kids would do against Snead and Hogan,” Goalby said, while admitting the players and equipment are better today.

Goalby said he won $3,500 for winning the Los Angeles Open in 1961 and that he thought that was all the money in the world.

“I won San Diego and I won $5,000. At the Masters I won $15,000 when I won,” he said. “Last year and the last five years they give us $10,000 to go to the dinner on Tuesday night. So it’s damn near as much for the dinner as when I won the tournament.”