Bob Hope Classic: Steve Jones makes a surprise appearance
LA QUINTA, Calif. – The presence of any major champion is news at the Bob Hope Classic.
Many of the game's top players, including all four current major champions, are absent this week. You can blame Abu Dhabi's appeal or plain old indifference to this PGA Tour stalwart.
The sight of Steve Jones on PGA West's practice tee Monday afternoon was especially surprising. Injuries have kept Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champ, from playing a PGA Tour-sanctioned event since 2007. At 53, he became eligible for the Champions Tour several years ago.
Jones is playing the Hope as a past champion. His 1989 Hope victory was one of eight PGA Tour wins, an impressive count considering he spent much of his career hampered by injuries.
Tennis elbow required surgeries in both 2008 and 2009. It was only last week that he made his first full swings since '07.
"I feel like I'm 20 again," Jones said. "I'm excited to be out here, to see a lot of the players. People are shocked to see me. It's like old times, giving grief to Jesper (Parnevik) on the range and he's giving it back."
This wasn't the first long layoff of Jones' career. He won four times, including a three-win season in 1989, before a motorbike accident in 1991 sidelined him for nearly three years.
The 6-foot-4 Jones still hits the slight draw that helped him beat Davis Love III and Tom Lehman at Oakland Hills. He's still getting used to the latest equipment, though.
About a dozen clubs lay on the ground near his feet as he hit balls Monday. He had to change to an iron set with conforming grooves for the Hope. He still had his TaylorMade 360 driver, a club that's about a decade old, in his University of Colorado stand bag in case he couldn't find a new driver to his liking.
"My putter is 29 years old," he said. "There's a lot of different technology."
After returning from the dirt-bike accident, Jones won the 1996 Open, added two victories in 1997 and another in 1998. It's been an off-and-on battle with injuries ever since. He said his latest bout with tennis elbow was so severe that it was difficult to pick up something as light as a water bottle.
During his latest absence, Jones hosted a radio show and recently started the Steve Jones Golf Academy at The Raven Golf Club in Phoenix. Though he doesn't have Champions Tour status, he is exempt for some of the tour's majors, and may try to get in other events via Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemption.
"The doctor said come out and stress (the elbow) out, so that's what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm just trying to see how I'll hold up."