LA QUINTA, Calif. – The Bob Hope Classic may be lacking in stars, but their absence only gives this week more importance to the PGA Tour’s rank-and-file.
Six of the top seven players through 36 holes are Q-School or Nationwide Tour grads.
Those players get into tournaments on a space-available basis. Their eligibility category is periodically reordered based on this season’s money list, so a good showing here could set up a grad for the rest of the year.
Bubba Watson, the 36-hole leader, is the only player in the top seven who finished in the top 125 on last year’s PGA Tour money list (he was 60th). He’s gained attention this week for his play, as well as his efforts to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. A victory, his first on the PGA Tour, would go a long way toward that effort.
“I’ve always liked her show and think she’s funny, just hilarious,” Watson told PGATour.com earlier this week. In an online video posted earlier this week, he serenaded DeGeneres with “Happy Birthday.”
Watson flirted with 59 Friday (he was 9 under through 12 holes at SilverRock Resort), settled for 62, and is at 16 under par.
Of the top seven players through two rounds, two are rookies. University of Washington product Alex Prugh is in second at 14-under 130. Martin Flores, of the University of Oklahoma, is tied for third, another stroke back.
No rookies posted a top-10 finish at last week’s Sony Open, so they’re jockeying for the first of the season by a first-year player.
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Prugh won last year’s New Zealand Open to graduate from the Nationwide Tour, while Flores finished fourth at Q-School to earn his first Tour card after spending time on the mini-tours since turning pro in ’04.
Flores, an academic All-American at Oklahoma, played the Nationwide, Hooters, Gateway, Adams and eGolf Professional tours last year, then finished fourth at Q-School.
Flores has a cool swagger to him, a helpful trait for someone trying to find their way on the PGA Tour after spending most of their pro career on the mini-tours.
“For some reason, I’ve been very relaxed,” Flores said. “I’m confident in what I’m doing, but I never want it to come off as some kind of arrogance, but I enjoy my time out there. I like to be relaxed.”
Flores sways his hips and shoulders from side to side as he glides down fairways. There’s no anxiety in his movements. The only thing he does quickly is transition from his backswing to downswing. After taking the club back slowly with little wrist hinge, Flores fires his right hip over his left foot, getting his weight over to his left side early in the downswing.
He showed relatively little emotion while making an easy eagle on the par-5 eighth hole at PGA West’s Nicklaus Private Course. He winked and pointed at his caddie after carrying his tee shot 290 yards, then put his head down and pointed up with his right index finger when his 20-foot putt poured in the hole.
His favorite entertainer is the rapper Lil’ Wayne, his favorite TV show is ‘Entourage,’ and ‘The Hangover’ is his favorite movie.
Flores, who tied for 59th at the Sony Open, played alongside fellow Q-School grad J.P. Hayes, who is in seventh.
Not everything has gone smoothly for Flores since he earned a Tour card in the first week in December. His Chevy Tahoe got stolen Dec. 30, and Titleist had to make him a new set of clubs for the Sony.
“They found the car last Thursday, with everything in it,” Flores said. “So all they wanted were the tires, the rims. Unbelievable.”
Where Flores, who sported wingtip shoes Friday, may be flashy, Prugh is just solid, and consistent. He won just once at the University of Washington but was a two-time All-American.
“He’s always been an extremely solid player, but he just does his own thing. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t talk much, and so he’s easy to overlook,” his college coach, Matt Thurmond, said. “He was super easy to coach, almost boring. … I felt bad sometimes because I’d forget about him, because he didn’t need anything.”
Prugh qualified for the ’07 U.S. Open, was runner-up at that year’s Western Amateur and an alternate for that year’s Walker Cup team.
He also comes from a golfing family. His brother, Corey, also played at Washington and won the ’01 Pacific Coast Amateur. Their father, Steve, played college golf at Oregon and qualified for the ’06 U.S. Senior Open. Alex’s sister, Hillary, played at Montana State.
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PGA Tour veteran Joe Ogilvie is making the most of a sponsor exemption into this event. He’s tied for third at 13-under 131 (65-66).
The one-time PGA Tour winner regained his card at Q-School, but late bogeys there dropped him into a tie for 15th and knocked him down the Tour’s eligibility rankings for this season. Ogilvie had to rely on a sponsor exemption to get into the Hope, which he no doubt earned in part because of his ability to entertain his amateur playing partners.
“It was very valuable,” Ogilvie said of his sponsor exemption. “I know the Bob Hope people, I love this tournament, I love playing with the amateurs. Out of the 350 amateurs, I think I’m friends with 150 of them. It was a very big exemption.”
A good finish here would help him move up the Tour’s eligibility rankings when the first reshuffle comes, and make up for those late mishaps at Q-School.
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Amateurs stayed home today, and the pros played in twosomes. It was believed to be the first time that only the pros played on a scheduled pro-am day. It raised the question – will there be a day when the Hope permanently does away with its pro-am format?
“No,” said John Foster, chairman of the tournament board. “The tournament goes away (if the pro-am disappears), because there’s no way you can financially support it in this small of a community.”