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Former President Clinton Saves Desert Classic Humana Challenge

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Mark Wilson wins the Humana Challenge But Former President Clinton’s foundation Makes it happen

By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

La Quinta – Already recognized as one of the great presidents of our time, Bill Clinton continues to impact lives in a multitude of ways.

His philanthropic body of work is unparalleled. Now, he can be credited with saving the 52-year-old Palm Springs (Bob Hope) Golf tournament and Keeping the PGA Tour in the Inland area all while promoting healthy living tips along the way.

The William J. Clinton Foundation, teaming with Louisville, Kentucky based health insurance provider Humana, added their names to the ailing Bob Hope Golf tournament this year and by all measures have rescued the event and restored a successful venture back to health, so to speak.

The event began in 1960 as the Palms Springs Desert Golf Classic. In 1965 Bob Hope signed on, lending his name and star power to the event. Over the years, the tournament grew based on the appeal and entertainment prowess of the legendary entertainer.

Since Hope’s death in 2003, the tournament’s fortunes have steadily waned with fewer and fewer top named touring professionals willing to sign up each year for the grueling and very unusual 5 day 90 hole format.

The PGA has been picking up the tab for several years with an agreement to continue for a couple more years before bailing out and allowing the tournament to fade into extinction. But apparently, the former President had developed a fondness for the event dating as far back as 1995, while in office; he and former presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bob Hope played a round together in what is believed to be the only time three presidents have played together in the same round.

“We are really glad to see him here. It (the tournament) was getting pretty sad,” said Steve Dectonin a business owner from San Juan Capistrano and a PGA West homeowner. “The last few years, it was hardly worth attending.”

The event has been struggling with sponsorship for years and the level off competition had fallen to near Nationwide Tour levels.

The former president’s participation has paid immediate dividends. There were twice as many sponsors and exhibits as in past years. The opening day field of 144 touring professionals included Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, David Toms, Ben Crane, Camilo Villegas, defending champion Jhonattan Vegas and a host of top 100 players. The most recognizable field in years.

The 144 participants in the celebrity field included Smokey Robinson, Alice Cooper, Julius Erving, Craig T. Nelson, Don Cheadale, Michael Bolton, Morgan Freeman and a host of other lesser know celebrities, executives, and really good amateur golfers.

President Clinton walked the fairways all week meeting and mingling with the golfers and fans, and generally being a gracious host.

The excitement really got started on Saturday’s morning when Clinton teed off with his partner Greg Norman, Scott McCarron and Humana Healthcare CEO Mike McCallister. Clinton’s galley quickly swelled to several hundred people following the former president during his round.

Clinton warned during his impromptu press conference on Friday that his golf might be rusty. The former president said that his heart surgery a few years ago changed his game. His best golf was back in 2001, shortly after leaving office. Since then, health problems and his busy schedule have hampered his game.

He was right. The former president started to tire after seven holes and put one on a roof top and another in the lake but he maintained his sense of humor and continued to entertain the huge crowd following him.

After every hole, Clinton worked the ropes, shaking hands and repeating “I’m glad to see ya” as if he was talking to old friends.

The celebrity round was shortened after gale force winds erupted knocking over everything in sight, halting play and ending the celebrity round. But, I doubt the former president was disappointed that he didn’t have to play 18 holes.

Final round play continued on Sunday morning under near perfect conditions. Third round leader Mark Wilson continued his assault on the field, fighting off Johnson Wagner, John Mallinger and Robert Garrigus by 2 strokes with a 24 under 264 to walk away with the 1.08 million purse.

Winning the Humana Challenge gave Wilson his fifth career PGA win and the 500 FedExCup points earned catapulted him to number 2 in the FedExCup point’s standings.

Wilson and the entire Inland region owe the former president a debt of gratitude. He says he plans to “put the tournament back on its feet and promote health and wellness. He plans to be here every year. “I signed on. First, I’m having a good time. And second, it’s my responsibility. Said the former president.

Changes like shorting the format from the old 5 day 90 hole format to the more traditional 72 hole format has already improved the field.

Bill Clinton has quickly become the face of the event and saved it from extinction. His star power has given it life and a new direction.

The former president has committed his foundation to 8 years participation and support for the event. And thankfully there are no politics involved.

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com

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