The Humana Challenge golf tournament -- formerly the Bob Hope Classic -- begins today in La Quinta at the Palmer Private Course at PGA West, the Nicklaus Private at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club. The new sponsor, Humana, has filled the days leading up to the tournament with free clinics and lectures on how to live healthy. There was even a demonstration Wednesday on how you could ride a special bike and make smoothies at the same time. And who doesn't like smoothies.
Also omnipresent is former President Bill Clinton, whose Clinton Foundation will also be a beneficiary of money raised this week. Clinton has been schmoozing with golfers and hosting dinners, and now he'll be mingling.
Overlooked in this story of change is the fact that some good golfers are here. Clinton's personal phone calls drew Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, but world No. 8 Dustin Johnson is going to try out his surgically repaired knee, and world No. 11 Matt Kuchar decided to kick off his 2012 season here instead of Hawaii.
In the past Kuchar, 33, has come to practice in the desert, then gone to Hawaii to start the PGA Tour season. "This year I took extra time off," Kuchar said, "because the off-season was extra short because of the President's Cup being in the middle of November. I've been out here a week now and I'm excited."
Kuchar didn't start playing golf until he was 12. He was a tennis player and a huge fan of Boris Becker when he was growing up in Orlando. His parents got an upgraded membership at a country club that included golf, and Kuchar discovered he was more likely to be like Jack Nicklaus than Becker.
This is Kuchar's sixth consecutive appearance here. His best finishes here came as a tie for second two years ago and a tie for seventh last year.
Kuchar was set to tee off this morning from the first tee at PGA West with pro Jerry Kelly and amateurs David Grieve and Julius Erving.
Mickelson, a two-time winner here, teed off at 8:50 from the first tee at La Quinta Country Club with pro Steve Marino.
Actors Craig T. Nelson and Morgan Freeman and singers Michael Bolton, Alice Cooper and Smokey Robinson are among the notable amateurs playing.
Kuchar is the fourth-highest ranked American golfer in the world, and he has signed on with a new sponsor, Grey Goose Vodka, which is also the sponsor of a new Golf Channel show, "Grey Goose 19th Hole." The talk show, hosted by Lara Baldesarra, will debut Jan. 26, and Kuchar will be a guest.
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-- Diane Pucin in La Quinta
Photo: Matt Kuchar. Credit: Dean Lewins. European Press Agency.