If the late Bob Hope's "aura is still felt, it is Bill Clinton's physical presence that helped save" the PGA Tour event in Palm Springs, according to Diane Pucin of the L.A. TIMES. The Humana Challenge, formally known as the Bob Hope Classic, teed off today, and as "recently as two years ago, it seemed as if the tournament that had once been a calendar must for every great player might disappear." The Clinton Foundation has an active role in the event, and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said that Clinton’s "association with the tournament is a game-changer." Chamblee, who is profiled today in the N.Y. Times, said, "This event had slipped into the lower echelon." Fellow Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo agreed, saying, "The tournament was struggling with its legacy" (L.A. TIMES, 1/19). The AP's Greg Beacham noted after several "slow years threatened the future of this famed pro-am, the tournament is back in full swing with a new name, a slicker format and an improved field." The field "features far fewer amateur playing partners to annoy the pros, and the purse grew to $5.6 million." Clinton will play with Greg Norman on Saturday, and his foundation will "spend the week promoting healthy lifestyles to the Coachella Valley fans" (AP, 1/18). Author John Feinstein said of Clinton, "The guys recognize that his presence definitely gives this tournament a boost of energy that it needs and attention that it needs. The field is better than it’s been in a long time” (“Morning Drive,” MLB Network, 1/19). In California, Larry Bohannan writes, "Walk around the tournament this week and there is more of a sense of optimism." The pro field "is better," and the enthusiasm for the changes "from the players is contagious." It is "impossible to measure the improvement, but it is there." Bohannan: "Talk to the people around the tournament, people from the PGA Tour and some of the players, and they will tell you that this year ought to be and needs to be just a beginning for the Humana Challenge. ... What happens this week has to be just a stop on the journey. Humana has an eight-year commitment to the event, so that leaves room for improvement" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 1/19).
THE NEW MODEL? In Jacksonville, Garry Smits wrote the Humana Challenge could be the "new model for a golf tournament in terms of walking the walk for charitable concerns." Clinton joined PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, golfers, fitness experts, politicians and entertainers Tuesday in participating in the "Health Matters" forum. There were sessions and roundtables and panel discussions and other forms of interaction that "set out to promote one of former President Clinton's goals: wellness and preventative measures that can be taken earlier in life to reduce health concerns later in life, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/18). Clinton said, “I would like to get the PGA, and professional golfers generally, more involved than just like the First Tee program where the individual foundations try to promote fitness. … The level of fitness of pro golfers now compared to a few decades ago is dramatically different. … They can have a real impact on a broader number of people and I am very concerned with what is happening to the younger generation and the older people who are giving up too soon” ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 1/18).
CLINTON'S IMPACT NOT AS MUCH AS THOUGHT: In an ESPN.com golf roundtable, the question of Clinton's impact on the tournament was posed, and ESPN.com's Michael Collins said, "Clinton might get less than 10 percent of the credit. The real reason the field is so much better is because the top guys are finding out that in order to stay in the positions that get them into all the tournaments, they're going to have to play earlier than normal." ESPN.com's Bob Harig responded, "There is no doubt that Clinton is having an influence. It is difficult to say no to a former president who is also an avid golfer. But even more influential is the change in format. Going to four days (instead of five), which means one less golf course, is huge" (ESPN.com, 1/16).
STRESSING IMPORTANCE OF HEALTH: The new emphasis on fitness around the golf tournament has been the focus of several stories on non-sports TV programming. Tuesday night’s edition of NBC’s “Nightly News” aired a segment called “Healthy Choices,” which focused on the health risks involved with obesity, including diabetes. NBC’s Brian Williams said the report included how Clinton was “scared straight and almost died for his past habits” and is now “doing his part” to help children suffering from obesity. NBC's Nancy Snyderman said Clinton’s “emergency heart surgery several years ago forced him to take a second look, not just at improving his own health but others as well.” Snyderman said the Clinton Foundation formed the “Alliance for a Healthier Generation” to “tackle the childhood obesity epidemic” (“Nightly News,” NBC, 1/17). Yesterday morning’s edition of NBC’s “Today” aired a segment called “Today’s Health” which re-aired Snyderman's report, with some added footage (THE DAILY). Snyderman also appeared on last night’s edition of Golf Channel’s “Golf Central.” Snyderman said that she believes golf has been “underestimated with regard to how health, strength, vitality can be linked to a sport.” She added that “there isn’t a more perfect sport than golf” to stress the importance of “walking, and breathing fresh air, and being physically fit and taking care of yourself" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 1/18).