Tournament:, CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, January 14-17
Course: TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, 7,113 yards, par 72. (Also PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta Country Club are used the first three days)
Defending Champion: Bill Haas, Wake Forest alum and son of PGA Pro Jay Haas. The whole dang family has golf talent oozing from their pores. But not necessarily good hairlines.
Television: Thursday-Sunday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel).
Fun Fact: The tournament is literally minutes down the road from Coachella. Worlds are colliding.
Former 'Dawgs in the Field (Five): Erik Compton, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Hudson Swafford, Brendon Todd.
We leave the lush landscapes and temperate climate of Hawaii for the US mainland, and will remain here for the majority of the year. But unlike Major League Baseball, they take early season weather patterns into account and schedule January golf in places like Phoenix, San Diego, Hawaii, and this week in Palm Springs, CA (about 1.5 hours east of Los Angeles).
This is the evolution of the Bob Hope Classic. Hope first attached his name to it in 1965 until it was dropped in 2012 (Hope died in 2003). This fact probably isn't fun if you were born after 1980. But it's been a mainstay on the PGA Tour during the winter months, and attracts a decent field. Six of the world's top 30 are entered, and Phil Mickelson will make his 2016 debut. I won't speak for the "celebrities" - I personally think organizers scramble to grab warm bodies when the A-listers drop out at the last moment.
If you like birdies, then this will be one of your favorites to watch. As mentioned above, three courses are used the first three days, with each player/celebrity team getting to play each course once. Because it's a pro-am, and the am stands for amateur which means slow play, plus the fact that it's really twice as many golfers because of the team format, then you have REALLY slow play. So they use three courses to prevent backlogs and to get the players finished before the coyotes come out, and Sunday's final round is only played on the Stadium Course. But back to the birdies - all three courses play short for tour pros, and all are resort courses which usually mean generous greens, wide fairways, and prime conditions. Give those to tour pros and they'll eat it up and ask for seconds.
Some of the all-time low scores have been set in this tournament, but they have most always used more than one course, and the course rota has changed over the years. But this area is replete with golf resorts and man-made water wasting, so they have plenty to choose from. Patrick Reed shot 260 out of par 288 (72 holes) two years ago, and Steve Stricker once shot 255 out of 288 (33 under par) on four rounds, but it was a 5 round tourney back in those days. David Duval shot 59 on his final round in 1999, one of the few to do so in competition. There Will Be Birdies (note to self: make this the title of my article for next year).
For those who played for UGA, we have a slightly smaller representation for a couple of reasons. Kevin Kisner played the first two weeks in Hawaii and is coming off two top 10s so he's taking a break. Bubba Watson scheduled a four week break and won't return until Phoenix in a couple of weeks. Chris Kirk played last week, but didn't fare well, though Harris English did. Some guys just skip this week because of the pro-am format. But here's who will be putting peg to ground:
Erik Compton. 229th in the world and only 2 cuts out of 5 so far (both were in the fall of this wrap-around season). He was bonefishing in the reefs/shallows/flats while golf was being played last week and the TV crews caught him. He was finished for the day, but considering he was outside the cut line, he might think about hitting the range instead.
Brian Harman. The Savannah native moved up to 99th in the world (this matters), and has made just over $340k this season. The T13 last week has him trending positively. He's not long, but not short either, and is a crafty lefty who could do well this week.
Russell Henley. Macon's favorite golfing son (supplanting Arnold Blum, Peter Persons, and MaconDawg) missed his first cut of the season last week, but is still 46th in the world. He's streaky, and if his putter gets hot, he can go on a serious run.
Hudson Swafford. The Polk County, Florida native is 234th in the world but 37th in FedEx Cup points this season. He's been battling a bad leg (knee?) for a while now, but seems to be playing better this season. He has three top 25s including last week's T9. Ranks 10th in driving distance, but 114th in driving accuracy - so his tee-to-green game needs some work. But I like his form this week playing these courses.
Brendon Todd. The 2007 graduate is 83rd in the world, but has only made 2 out of 6 cuts this season. He won twice on the web.com Tour before moving up to the big dance, and won a PGA Tour event in 2014. His stats aren't good - his best streak of par or better this season is 4 holes. Which means he throws in bogeys.
The current squad of UGA golfers under Coach Chris Haack is off until late February, and Coach Josh Brewer's Lady Dawgs have three weeks until the Lady Bulldog Invitational in Athens. So this is what we're left with, and I suggest you crank up your Mott the Hoople, STP, and Motorhead, turn the TV to Golf Channel, and root on your favorite Red & Black.
and GO 'DAWGS!!!!