As host, Phil Mickelson wants to return American Express event to its glory days

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As host, Phil Mickelson wants to return American Express event to its glory days

PGA Tour

As host, Phil Mickelson wants to return American Express event to its glory days

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Could 2020 represent a new beginning for the PGA Tour’s event in La Quinta? Or could it represent a return to the tournament’s glory days when Bob Hope was the ringleader of one of the tour’s most popular events?

Either way, Phil Mickelson is convinced this is the right time for him to expand his role with the American Express golf tournament and the Coachella Valley.

“It’s always been an important part of my life. I would come out here and play junior tournaments here,” Mickelson said. “I’ve always been passionate about here, and I love the tournament itself. But more than that, this tournament has meant historically a lot to this area, and I want to bring back the vision of Bob Hope.”

The announcement that Mickelson will officially become the host of the tournament he won in 2002 and 2004 and where he finished second by a single shot last year was just part of activities Saturday at Madison Club in La Quinta, where Mickelson has a home. Much of the discussion Saturday centered around the addition of global financial company American Express as tournament sponsor and what the company can bring to the desert event.

“To partner with American Express, who has been involved with many other world-class sporting events throughout the world, and to have them see our vision and to help us bring it to prominence, is an important thing,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson wants community presence

Other Saturday announcements included the tournament’s music series, which in 2020 will include two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Stevie Nicks and two-time country music Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan. The event featuring 156 PGA Tour pros and 156 amateurs played over three courses in La Quinta will now have a $6.7 million purse, an increase of $800,000 from the 2019 tournament. The winner will take home $1,206,000.

Phil Mickelson announces his expanding role in the American Express golf tournament, including a new position as host of the event during a news conference at The Madison Club in La Quinta, Calf., on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (Photo: Taya Gray, Palm Springs Desert Sun)

“Obviously, American Express is a world-class global brand and brings nothing but the best to this event,” said Jeff Sanders, executive director for the tournament for Lagardere Sports, the company that operates the tournament for non-profit Desert Classic Charities. “So we are absolutely thrilled to have American Express as our title sponsor. Steve Squeri, the CEO, he is going to lead us into the future. He’s the CEO you want to have, believe me, behind a PGA Tour event.”

Mickelson, a World Golf Hall of Famer with five major wins and 44 PGA Tour victories overall, has been the tournament’s ambassador for the last three years, a behind-the-scenes role where he talked up the tournament to fellow PGA Tour players and corporate heads. But in 2020 he’ll take on the role of host, though he said exact details of what his duties will be in the event six weeks away are still being worked out.

“The last couple of years, we asked to give us a few years to really showcase what this tournament can do, and have needed and had the help of many people,” Mickelson said, specifically pointing to officials with Discovery Land, developer of Madison Club and other desert courses, and Lagardere Sports, which operates the tournament for non-profit Desert Classic Charities.

“Now we have the partner that we want to bring it to a whole other level,” Mickelson said, a reference to the new five-year sponsorship deal with American Express. “American Express asked that myself and my foundation take on a bigger role, the PGA Tour asked me to take on a bigger role. My wife and I, Amy, we’ve decided this is the right fit, and we want to have a more direct involvement with the charitable support and donation here in the valley.”

Mickelson and Sanders both made a point that all charitable proceeds from the event, which has given $60 million to local charities since 1960, will remain in the Coachella Valley.

“I know historically that hasn’t always been the case, but it is going to be the case going forward,” Mickelson said.

Getting more pros, CEOs to play is key

To improve the tournament, which has struggled at times in recent years with the depth of its professional field, Mickelson said getting the right people playing in the pro-am is a key. The pro-am format has two PGA Tour professionals playing with two different amateurs each of the three days of pro-am play.

“My role has been get the message out on why and how this tournament is the best place to start the year because we have perfect weather, which is why the courses are by the mountain,” Mickelson said. “So we don’t have wind, so that we give the players a chance to build a foundation for the upcoming year.

The second key element is making the tournament and the amateurs here (be) the CEOs that are decision-makers in the game of golf, that support the game of golf,” Mickelson added. “If you don’t have relationships with Corporate America, (the pro-am) it gives you a chance to formulate relationships. If you do, it gives you a chance to strengthen them. Because we will allow players to play with their partners.”

A CEO-laden pro-am would be a throwback to the event’s beginnings, when many of the nation’s corporate leaders had part-time homes in the Coachella Valley, played in the tournament and often struck endorsement deals with PGA Tour players as a result of playing together in the event.

Back to the days of Bob Hope

Mickelson said he and his wife Amy are committed to becoming more a part of the Coachella Valley community, and that he would like to see the tournament return to the days when Hope was the host and the tournament held a special place on the PGA Tour schedule for players like five-time winner Arnold Palmer and other top names who won the event like Billy Casper, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus.

“Our goal it to take the intention of Bob Hope 60 years ago and reignite that,” Mickelson said. “So the commitment to the community, the commitment to the charitable contributions, the commitment to the CEOs and (musical acts), and make it a unique experience. Because the celebrities give us a chance to expose golf to a lot of those who don’t normally play it.”

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