Rude: Hope's era of celebs over at Humana Challenge
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
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LA QUINTA, Calif. – For better or for worse, this is not your grandfather’s Bob Hope tournament. That era is gone. Times change and so do tournaments, and perhaps no event has transformed as much as this one, now called the Humana Challenge.
Over the past couple of years the pro-am tournament has moved from 128 professionals to 156, 384 amateurs to 156, four courses to three, five rounds to four and 25-30 celebrities to four (actor Craig T. Nelson, singer Michael Bolton, ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely and Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders are called special guests of the tournament). There’s no celebrity wave anymore, and each pro now plays with one amateur partner daily instead of three.
That means the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am stands alone as a celebrity hit-and-giggle event. Bob Hope died 10 1/2 years ago. And since then so have his model and vision. The focus is more on health than Q-rated party.
“You could kind of see things changing when Mr. Hope passed,” said Paul Goydos, two-time Tour winner and former policy board director. “His death changed the dynamic of the event. He drew fans and amateurs.”
Necessity is behind much of the evolution. Many of today’s professionals weren’t wild about playing four different courses and long rounds with three amateur partners. Some celebrities didn’t want to play three or four days, and the quality of celeb dropped off in recent years. To offset lost revenue from the drop in amateur entrants, the fee for amateurs rose from $15,000 to $29,000 last year.
The upshot is that while actors, singers and athletes no longer roam the fairways here, the pro fields are considerably better. Only one player in the top 40 in the world played the 2008 tournament. This week’s Humana has nine of the top 50 and five of the top 31.
“The model wasn’t working,” said Goydos. “Certain pros didn’t like the concept of four courses. Four days and fewer courses and amateurs are more appealing to the average Tour player.”
Goydos admits he’s in the minority. He likes the old Hope, the idea of hanging out with celebrities. Part of his sentiment comes from the fact he grew up in southern California and loved watching the Hope.
“I would argue that if I could play one tournament besides the majors, it would be the Hope,” Goydos said. “But then it’s probably easy for me to say because I only played in the celebrity draw two or three times.”
• What a difference two months have made for the psyche and body of Brandt Snedeker.
Now, the world’s 14th ranked player says he’s 100 percent healthy and expects to have the best year of his career. He tied for 11th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and came away with no physical issues, something that he said pleasantly “shocked” him.
But right after suffering what he called a “self-inflicted stupidity” knee injury during an early-November corporate outing in China, he was briefly overcome with a sense of panic and worried that he might miss the 2014 season.
“It was scary,” Snedeker said Wednesday. “I had to fly out of China and thought I had torn my ACL and thought it was going to be a year off from golf. It was not a fun trip home.”
As it turns out, he suffered only a deep bone bruise and sprained ligament after jumping off of a Segway, a motorized scooter he used to retrieve golf balls.
“So I’m banned from all things with two wheels for the foreseeable future,” he said.
• The Humana field includes past champion Peter Jacobsen, Champions Tour player and NBC broadcaster. At 59, Jacobsen is making his first Tour start since 2008 and hoping to make his first cut since 2006. He hasn’t played here – one of his favorite Tour events – in nine years.
Not surprisingly, Jacobsen, who has had hip and knee replacements, says he has “zero expectations” in terms of performance. But he does guarantee one thing.
“The only thing I can control is how much fun I’m going to have,” he said. “And believe me, that’s going to be 10 on a 10 scale.”
• Humana ambassador Gary Player, long golf’s face of fitness, didn’t disappoint at a Wednesday news conference talking about health initiatives. His passion and entertainment value never wane when talking about obesity and urging better habits.
His golden nugget Wednesday was this: Many U.S. people over 50 “haven’t seen their private parts in the last five years. They have got their stomach out here and they never will see them again.”
Who needs Bob Hope’s comedy when you have the Black Knight.