(AP) — For its first 50 years, the Bob Hope Classic in the Palm Springs area was affected by rain just about as often as the tournament’s namesake might have claimed he played a respectable round of golf – maybe once in a generation.
Yet the celebrities, amateurs and PGA Tour pros gathered in the desert are bracing for the possibility of heavy rains hampering the first two days of the tour’s only five-day, four-course tournament.
A series of storms are pounding Southern California this week, and the heaviest rains are expected to hit Wednesday and Thursday, putting the tournament organizers in unfamiliar positions under slickers and umbrellas. The Hope Classic lost just two days to rain in its first 50 years, and none since 1980 – yet the tournament organizers closed Tuesday’s practice round to the public over weather concerns.
Pat Perez won last year’s Hope Classic by getting off to a blistering start, finishing the first 36 holes in a PGA tournament-record 20 under. He’s not likely to duplicate that feat amid raindrops and blustery winds – but he knows everybody will be working for the weekend, when the storms are likely to let up.
“I don’t like playing in the rain anyway,” said Perez, an Arizona native. “It’s cold, and I don’t like being wet. It’s just a damper. (But) it doesn’t do anything for me as far as defending, because I’m still here, and the tournament’s still going to go on. I have a lot of great memories from last year, and it will be a good week. It would be a better week if I won again.”
The Hope Classic could use a good week, given its star-free field and glaring lack of a title sponsor – not to mention all that rain.
One of the traditional hot spots on the tour’s West Coast Swing has taken hits in recent years from the economy, the high winds that spook some players, and even the Abu Dhabi Championship, which has poached many top players this week. Jerry Kelly and Donnie Hammond recently withdrew from the event, and even Anthony Kim – who spent his high school years in the Coachella Valley – skipped the Hope Classic to play in Abu Dhabi.
Although the field doesn’t contain a top-35 player, it’s still a favorite among California fans who enjoy the interplay between amateurs and pros during the first four days before the pros take over on Sunday.
“You play in plenty of pro-ams even in the amateur events growing up, so you learn how to stay patient out there and not worry about what everybody else is doing,” said Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson and the recipient of a sponsor’s exemption. “This week is four different courses, but I was able to get out here early enough because I wasn’t playing last week, and I played all four courses now and got to really see them and feel like I know them very well.
“As far as playing with three amateurs, that’s fine with me. You’ve just got to try to do your own thing and try to be polite, talk to everybody, but focus on the golf as well.”
The field also features Ryan Palmer, who won his third career title at the Sony Open in Hawaii last Sunday. He’s returning to Palm Springs after spending part of his preseason preparation time in the desert to get away from the cold, rainy Dallas weather.
“I know the Palmer Course really well, (and) I got to play the Nicklaus Course before I left,” Palmer said. “So I’m very excited about the week. I always enjoyed playing here, and it couldn’t be a better time to come here and play after a great week in Hawaii after winning.”
Palmer raised a champagne toast to his victory in the TaylorMade truck on Monday morning before getting back to work on maintaining the momentum from his $990,000 victory. He was disappointed to see the Hope Classic’s unimpressive field, even if it improves his chances for another strong finish.
“Obviously the more here, the better,” Palmer said. “I wish they would focus on playing over here a little bit more in these early events, because this is a great tournament. It’s a great week, and I wouldn’t miss it.”