LA QUINTA, Calif. — Greg Norman hadn’t played the Bob Hope Classic since 1986, and he had no plans to return to the Palm Springs desert’s venerable tournament until Bill Clinton changed his mind.
“I got a phone call I could never say no to, and there’s no question about that,” the Australian veteran said Wednesday. “We had a very frank conversation about the opportunities and the format, and how the tournament can be resurrected. ... The Bob Hope was such an iconic event. We hate to see events like that disappear.”
After several slow years threatened the future of this famed pro-am, the tournament is back in full swing with a new name, a slicker format and an improved field.
The Humana Challenge might have lost Hope, but it gained Clinton – who’s at least from a town called Hope.
After gaining its first title sponsor in four years, the tournament dropped its fifth day of competition and eliminated one venue from its traditional four-course rotation. The field also features far fewer amateur playing partners to annoy the pros, and the purse grew to $5.6 million.
The tournament also forged a new partnership with the Clinton Foundation, which returns a presidential feel to an event once played by Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford, both close friends of Hope.
The changes are designed to attract bigger names to an event that’s been skipped by many players in recent years in favor of a week off or lucrative paydays overseas.
So far, the Humana field is much healthier: Phil Mickelson will start his season here today, as will world No. 8 Dustin Johnson.
Charles Howell, a runner-up in last week’s Sony Open and Brian Gay (tied for sixth), head the local contingent.
They will be joined by Kevin Kisner, Scott Brown, Blake Adams and Vaughn Taylor.