Tournament: Desert Classic, January 17-20, 2019
Course: TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, 7,113 yards, par 72; The event’s pro-am format also will use two other courses: PGA West Nicklaus Tournament course (7,159/72) and La Quinta CC (7,060/72). All courses are very close in the Palm Desert, CA area, and only about 10 minutes from Coachella. Which I find fascinating.
Defending Champion: Jon Rahm. The latest in a succession of young, gifted, and brazen Spaniards, Rahm was quite accomplished at Arizona State and has early success as a pro on the PGA Tour. In one of many playoffs last year, Rahm defeated Andrew Landry on the 4th extra hole.
Fun Fact: This is now called the Desert Classic, probably the 5th name of the tournament over the last 15-20 years. For about 30 years, it was known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, hosted by the man himself. This was an earlier era, but the pro-am featured tons of celebrities like Frank Sinatra, and former President Gerald Ford was a frequent contestant.
How to Watch: Thursday-Sunday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel).
Dawgs in the Field: 8. Harris English, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Joey Garber, Sepp Straka, Chris Kirk, Hudson Swafford, and Kevin Kisner. Bubba Watson and Keith Mitchell are taking the week off.
Welcome to Pro-Am season! This time of year, the PGA Tour events often have a prominent feature to them known as a “pro-am”, or “professional-amateur” pairings. Some of them include a team aspect, pairing a pro with a celebrity for the tournament; some like this one just have celebrities playing alongside pros, but pros only competing against pros and celebrities/amateurs only competing against amateurs. This week won’t have too many A-listers, but there will be some bad golf.
Because of this format, the time to play is extended, and thus a field cut is made after 3 days (allowing more TV time for the aforementioned bad celebrity golf). It also cuts the pro field down to only 60 players (plus ties) instead of the normal 70. By doing so, the remaining amateurs will fill out the field. So our Bulldogs will need to get on the stick early to make the smaller cut field.
The courses are what you see when you go on vacation. By that, I mean they are lush, well-maintained, and pretty easy to navigate. Of course the pros hit from the back tees, thus play it longer, thus harder. Even with that, you will see some low 60s every day, and just breaking par won’t get the job done. Two separate 59’s have been carded on these courses, and plenty just above that.
Georgia’s own Hudson Swafford won the 2017 iteration of this event. Matter of fact, that was a great week overall for Bulldog golf fans: Swafford won, Harmon came in third, Kirk tied for 21st, and Kisner tied for 25th.
I broke down the ‘Dawgs in the field last week (click here for a refresher), and since we’re so early in the season, not much has changed. Instead, let’s delve for a moment into the current crop of UGA golfers (those still matriculating):
The Women’s program is headed by Coach Josh Brewer, and he has done an outstanding job of returning the program to national prominence. After some glory years in the 1990’s, the program fell off a bit before Brewer came on board 6 years ago. They are currently ranked #41 in the country, but that should improve quickly now that the spring season will get underway soon (the fall season is abbreviated, and not all programs play the same amount or quality of tournaments, and our two best didn’t play much).
The team is led by Seniors Bailey Tardy and Rinko Mitsunaga. Tardy is a former All-American, who was injured last spring and now returning to form. Mitsunaga is almost as accomplished, and the team will lean heavily on these ladies. Also a factor in Georgia’s “low” season ranking is that both of these players went to the LPGA qualifying tournament during the fall, missing significant UGA playing time.
The Men’s program is #22 in the nation, and you would expect nothing less from legendary Georgia golf coach Chris Haack. He joined the staff in 1996 and has been there ever since, garnering induction into several Georgia/golf-related Halls of Fame. He has two national championships, 8 SEC titles, and literally dozens of other accomplishments.
This year’s squad is relatively young, led by junior Spencer Ralston, currently #59 in the nation. Though freshman Trent Phillips is #4 in the nation after the brief fall campaign (Trent is the younger brother of UGA golfer Trevor Phillips). The Bulldogs already have two 3rd place finishes and two 2nd place finishes, and will be in Puerto Rico in February to kick off the 2019 portion of the season.
So the undergrads have a couple of weeks to shake off the rust, but the pros are back at it hard and heavy on the West Coast. If you don’t care about watching the Patriots and Saints march into Atlanta for the Super Bowl, flip it on over to Golf Channel and watch ‘Dawgs chasing little white balls. And as always...