Will (The) Hope Spring Eternal For The PGA Tour?

Like most everybody else, I have only the vaguest of notions of what Hell is like. The whole fire and brimstone thing never actually clicked with me – hey, if it’s warm it can’t be all bad. No, my vision of Hell involves mostly images of cold and dark. And reality television. I’m guessing that Keeping Up With The Kardashians is broadcast 24/7 there.

The reason I bring this up is because the end result of my recent trip to the Bob Hope Classic is a guaranteed reservation in Hades. You see, I snuck a Flip Videocam into a PGA Tour event. And used it. Here is the damning evidence…

To enjoy golf in January in the desert, you have to acquire a taste for sunshine, zero humidity and temperatures in the upper 70’s. It’s not too bad, if you like that sort of thing. As luck would have it, I do – but that was not the motivating factor in including the Classic on the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour schedule. I was actually there to see a celebrity.

The Bob Hope Classic is one of just two PGA Tour events in which celebrities and amateurs play alongside PGA Tour players in multiple rounds of tournament play. This isn’t the standard Wednesday Pro-Am Hit & Giggle. This is 72 holes with something on the line. And there was one particular luminary in the field that I felt compelled to follow.

Not Kurt Russell. Or Sugar Ray Leonard. Or even Alice Cooper. No, I was there to see Feesh tee it up.

You may remember Feesh from memorable posts like “Opening Day In The Bronx” and “U.S. Open Early Round Play:  A Tennis Bonanza”. Yup, that Feesh – one of my ghosts of college days past. Apparently, somewhere along the way since then he’s honed enough of a game to showcase it for golf’s Big Boys. And on this day, for me.

I had heard some rumblings that the PGA Tour was about to join the rest of the sports world in the current century and give up its militaristic insistence on banning personal technology from their venues. So I was interested to see what policy changes would greet me when I queued up to catch the parking lot shuttle.

Nope – nothing different here, except that the signs with red X’s slashed across pictures of every type of communication device invented since the Gutenberg printing press appeared to be larger than normal. Good thing they make these Flipcams small enough to fit in a sock. Hey, they made me resort to this!

I do have a pretty good idea when the No Technology policy might get some “tweaking” though. It’ll be roughly four and a half minutes after the first C-level executive of a major sponsor is stopped at the gate and forced to surrender the Blackberry that is surgically attached to their ear.

This was Day One of the Classic, but the usual buzz in the air wasn’t entirely about the golf to be played that day. Much of it was whispered speculation that this, the 52nd rendition of the Hope might be the last one played in California’s Coachella Valley. After all, this was the second straight year without a deep-pocketed title sponsor for the tournament, and that’s pretty much the kiss of death for a PGA Tour event. Sure the Tour is all about tradition…but it’s a little bit more about cash.

I wondered if the 2012 iteration of the venerable Classic – wherever and whatever it turns out to be – will include the amateur tournament component. It would be a shame if that went away. And it would be bad business as well, for Gen X and successive generations have clearly displayed a preference for doing rather than watching.

Things were pretty quiet at PGA West’s Nicklaus Course – one of the four tracks that host play during the first four days of the tournament. And purely by the luck of the draw, the Feesh-some Foursome was the last group of the day off the tee. The 10th tee. Which happened to be located a fair distance from the clubhouse.

So by the time my featured group was introduced, the gallery consisted primary of me and the Lovely Lisa – the wife and biggest fan of Feesh’s teammate Craig. OK, I exaggerated. The gallery consisted solely of me and Lisa.

Michael Putnam, the Tour pro paired with this group, appeared to be a refugee from some NFL team’s roster of linebackers. I would normally say that he hits the ball a mile, except that I could never actually see far enough to witness one of his tee shots land – so I can’t say with confidence that its flight didn’t actually exceed a mile.

I had never heard of him, so I guessed that he might be a rookie. My suspicions were reinforced when, after hitting his tee shot, he wandered over to the tee from which his amateur partners would play – and then strolled side by side, conversing with them up the first fairway. Usually in a Pro-Am situation, the Tour pro partner looks more like a random single who’s trying to play through.

It turned out that the affable Putnam had actually turned pro a few years prior, after an amateur career that included four years at Pepperdine and invitations to play on the 2005 Palmer Cup and Walker Cup teams. And while he hadn’t yet made a major impact on the PGA Tour, you wouldn’t have known it on this day. He birdied the first two holes and went on to shoot 30 on the front side. Since the Tour pro’s results count as part of the amateur team’s score at the Hope Classic, this was very helpful to the cause.

Feesh struggled over the first few holes, shaking off the rust that accumulates pretty quickly on a Northeastern golfer during the winter. But like most feel players, he just needed that first good swing to get rolling. In his case, it was an eight-iron approach on the fourth hole, and while he didn’t convert the putt, it led to four pars over the next five holes. “This is as good as I can play,” he confided to a pseudo-journalist at the turn. You read it here first.

It was inevitable that Putnam would cool off after his torrid start, but almost as soon as he did, his amateur partners started picking up the slack. It was consummate “hamming & egging”, and with three relatively short, straightforward holes left to play, our heroes stood within reach of the tournament’s leading amateur teams. Spirits were high. We had even increased our gallery size by 50% when we picked up another spectator.

Sadly, it was not to be. Three straight finishing pars relegated Team Feesh to middle-of-the-pack status after Day One. But there were three more rounds to play, so as the sun slowly disappeared behind the stark desert mountains, plans were made for dinner and some spirited…strategery, so to speak.

As for me, it was time to head back to the coast, where I would labor through the night to develop and deliver my bootleg videos.

By the way…you realize of course that by viewing these clips you have become an accomplice, and thus have sacrificed your soul as well. Go ahead and scoff, but be forewarned:  Never underestimate the influence and reach of the good old boys in Pontre Vedre Beach.

Next Up:  Aerial acrobatics on the Winter Dew Tour

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