Humana Challenge. Just doesn’t have much ring to it. While it’s certainly understandable that the organizers wanted to inject some new life (and funding) into this event, for many it will always be the Bob Hope Classic. In the years since his passing this tournament has struggled to find it’s footing, so it made sense on a lot of levels to bring Bill Clinton into the fold a few years ago and add some cache to the event. Clinton actually played the event as a SITTING PRESIDENT in 1995 along with Gerald Ford and George Bush version 1.0. (Holy Secret Service nightmare!)
After altering the format from five rounds to four a few years ago (and euthanizing George Lopez in the process), the Tour is FINALLY abandoning the celebrity format (if you could even call them that – can you imagine being the PR intern tasked with adding some pizzazz to this D-List cast press release?). It was one thing when you had legends like Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Ike Eisenhower teeing it up on a yearly basis, but these days one annual celebrity pro-am is more than enough (no thanks on the six hour rounds and cloying television coverage). However, instead of doing away with the Pro-Am format altogether, Finchy opted to keep the corporate money flowing and allow wealthy white dudes to still buy their way in. We see you working, Boss Man!
It’s really not necessary to do a deep-dive on the courses this week; they’re hilarious resort courses and are the equivalent of setting up a sporting clay’s course in an Audubon sanctuary (which, ironically, these tracks are). Picture the exact opposite of The Open Championship rota and that’s what the Coachella Valley offers – a variety of perfectly manicured tracks in the birthplace of target golf and water-management lunacy. This year’s trio features two PGA West courses (Palmer Private and Nicklaus Private) and La Quinta Country Club. All three courses are short, have nothing resembling rough, and perfect greens. Birdie bonanza.
Brian Gay’s victory was especially impressive as he defeated not only the 150-man field, but also anyone who cares about fashion, along with organizers’ hopes of a dynamic, young winner.
Last Name does NOT adhere to stereotypes around fashion.
The tragically-dressed short-knocker vanquished two power plants (CH3, Lingmerth) to snatch his fourth career victory, going 25-deep over the four rounds which was pretty much in line with previous years. Notably, the top-20 finishers included young guns Lingmerth, Kokrak, Horschel, Chappell, and Stallings (who played the 18th hole with his hands around his neck, costing himself a spot in the playoff), who all collected well over $100k and relieved some status pressure in the process. Don’t think it’s a coincidence at all each of these guys went on to experience serious success in 2013. In total, four rounds of 62 and seven rounds of 63 were turned in. (It really is a shame two-time champ Phil Mickelson doesn’t at least visit every few years).
So has the switch to a relatively normal format made a difference? Not really, but then again, if the tournament has improved it’ll take a couple years to really manifest. As it stands, five of the top-30 (OWGR) are in the field but the Humana remains the quintessential early-season cash-grab. 150-man field, Web.com style birdie-fest, early season event (again) lacking the heavyweights – you’re gonna see the kids trying to get away with as much as they can before the parents come back next week at Farmers. Doesn’t seem to favor any particular type of player – prior to Gay and Mark Wilson’s victories the last two years, it was won by bombers Billy Haas and Jhonny Vegas.
Basically, all of the par-fives are very reachable on every course. While the other two courses are pretty unremarkable, Palmer Private features a couple of drive-able par-fours and a savory finishing stretch with a Mickey Mouse par-three (love it). It’s just tough to highlight scoring holes when they’re all scoring holes.
Top Players in Field: ZJ, Keegan, Billy Haas (Member FDIC; plays a shitload of desert golf), Webb, Sneds, and Harris English
Players Providing Us Joy (for various reasons): Mike Weir, Kevin Na, Y.E. Yang (he lives!), Steve Jones, Nicolas Colsaerts (why is the ‘Muscle’ not playing the big desert event?), and Chris DiMarco (must’ve paid his way into the Pro-Am)
Horses for Courses (Gambling Spin)
Gary Woodland (25/1). Runner-up finish here a few years back, primed to break out again. Can out-muscle layout.
Bill Haas (25/1). Great value, quintessential horse for course. Past champ also lost this tourney in a playoff and largely owned it prior to struggling the last two years. Would be surprised if he doesn’t regain form here.
Billy Horschel (30/1). Finished T-10 last year. Came on strong at Hyundai then took last week off to troll fair-weather FSU fans on twitter. This set-up should suit his game. Not overly long, but menaces pins. Think old-school Duval.
Jason Kokrak (50/1). Bomber is charging hard with three top-20’s in four events this year. Collected a top-10 here last year. Is gonna win sooner rather than later.
Pat Perez (60/1). Poster-boy for the NLU lifestyle looked strong last week. Past-champ here is good value. Birdie aficionado.
Kevin Chappell (60/1). UCLA product finished with final round 62 last year.
Luke Guthrie (60/1) & John Peterson (80/1). Couple of ultra-talented youngsters who can go low. Fit the mold of rising talent who can use a strong result this week as a springboard to a big year.
Field (5/2). Lowest odds offered but a decent play considering the easy course set-ups and wide-open nature.
The Breeder w/ some vintage sass.
Guarantees: perfect weather; a smattering of cougars in the gallery; some uber-bro’s who made the trip over from L.A.; Golf Channel force-feeding health tips down viewer’s throats (as a condition of the Humana sponsorship) and talking incessantly about how fit Bill Clinton looks. Overall, this is an event caught between a glorious past and a cloudy future. If the tour ever rigs an event, this might be the one. Rickie Fowler is playing this year and a win from him would provide some serious marketing wattage.
- I find it curious there are six courses at PGA West and they don’t even play the tourney on the best one. Here’s why. Would be interesting to see a return to the Stadium course one of these years. I say you replace the Nicklaus Private course with this one and keep Palmer Private and LaQuinta so the players get totally mind-fucked the one round they play on Stadium. Guys are shooting 63’s over at the other two and 73’s at Stadium.
- Always felt the Mississippi opposite-field cash-grab event (now the “Sanderson Farms Championship”) was miscast as the Viking Classic (even though Viking Range is based in Missisippi – who knew?). Viking should’ve swooped in to sponsor this event when Chrysler/US taxpayers bailed in 2008 – the celebration of the Viking spirit would’ve been in full force; Tour pro’s pillaging and plundering everything in their sight.
- Brace yourself: Johnny Miller shot a final round 63 to win this event in ’76. He’ll probably reference it on multiple occasions during the telecast.
- Corey Pavin won this event twice, and as was the case at the Hawaiian Open, attempted to rename it the “Rat Family Open.” Come to think of it, Pavin won the same event twice five different times (Honolulu, Los Angeles, Houston, Colonial, and Milwaukee (RIP)). Pretty remarkable. And he lost Hartford in a playoff twice. Shit, he went to a playoff nine times in his career, going 5-4 with all four losses coming at the hands of an opponent’s birdie. Hat’s off to Corey Pavin (seriously).
- The Breeder won this event five times.
- David Duval shot a final round 59 in 1999 to win by one stroke. Take a minute or two today to appreciate that feat. Who’d he beat? The ‘Volcano,’ Steve Pate!
- Finally, it’s great to see former champ Peter Jacobsen playing this week. He’ll bring some good mojo.