The Loop

Humana: Health, hope and a worthy winner

January 22, 2012

This was about Hope and change and an American president, though not about politics. The Humana Challenge, as this PGA Tour event is now called, is the Bob Hope Classic re-imagined in the interest of its own survival and of those contributing to an increasingly sedentary populace.

So, how did it do?


Mark Wilson walked away with a winner's check, but the headliner at the Humana was unquestionably President Bill Clinton. Photo by Getty Images

Artistically, it might have been better, though in the interest of the cause the tournament was advocating it was perhaps in its best interests that heavyweights Brendon de Jong or Jarrod Lyle did not win. There also was the big blow that was responsible for the third-round suspension and explains the thousands of windmills that decorate the San Gorgonio Pass on either side of Interstate 10 west of La Quinta, Calif.

*__[Related: Wilson holds off field for win


Then also was the winner, who was not Palmer or Nicklaus or even Mickelson, all of them past champions who brought it prestige. Then again, the host of this tournament historically has been the star of this show, as was the case again.

This time if was former president Bill Clinton, hosting on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and awarding the winner, Mark Wilson, the Bob Hope Memorial Trophy that pays homage to the late tournament host and his legacy.

Wilson, 37, likely will never adorn a marquee, but neither is he an unexceptional champion. The victory was his fifth, and third in less than 13 months, more than anyone else on the PGA Tour has won in that span. It also will return him to the top 50 in the World Ranking.

Moreover, he won with a clutch 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the Palmer Course at PGA West, beating nightfall and a host of challengers who hoped for a playoff that was almost certain to have been postponed to Monday morning.

Wilson also bested a field that was stronger than it had been under the Hope banner in recent years, in large part because of Clinton's influence and a more appealing format -- four rounds on three courses, down from five on four. Greg Norman was playing at the behest of Clinton, though his was a ceremonial appearance designed to boost the gate and the tournament's cachet. Clinton also appealed to Phil Mickelson, who said he intended to play anyways.

"They were the only two I personally recruited, but we have a lot of other good players playing here," Clinton said in a Golf Channel interview earlier in the week. "We'll have to see. We won't know probably until the year or the year after whether it works for the golfers."

Ultimately, of course, the players will determine the fate of the tournament, or at least its standing in tour hierarchy. Once one of its more prestigious events, one that Arnold Palmer won five times, it has a long way to go. For the 16th straight year, Tiger Woods declined to participate. Also absent was Rickie Fowler, who grew up only about 90 minutes from La Quinta and would have enhanced the appeal.

The top-ranked player who was a factor in the proceedings was David Toms, 31st in the World Ranking, who tied for sixth. Mickelson was never in contention and tied for 49th in what was little more than a tuneup for the Farmers Insurance Open near his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., this week.

Not that it mattered much. For one year, at least, the tournament itself was something of a postscript to the prevailing message that was reinforced throughout the week -- health and wellness. Humana CEO Mike McCallister spoke on Sunday of "driving an agenda around health and wellness and raising the national conversation.

"We look forward to a very long relationship with the tour and the foundation here to really drive this important conversation," he said. The PGA Tour has an eight-year commitment from Humana, which already has produced positive results that in a sense align with its goals.

It has restored health to a moribund tournament that again has hope.

-- John Strege