Patton: Hope Classic format still entertaining

Jan 20 2011 - 8:55pm

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(Chris Carlson/The Associated Press)
Charles Howell III watches his tee shot on the 15th hole of the Palmer Private course at PGA West during the second round of the Bob Hope Classic PGA golf tournament in La Quinta, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011.
(Chris Carlson/The Associated Press)
Charles Howell III watches his tee shot on the 15th hole of the Palmer Private course at PGA West during the second round of the Bob Hope Classic PGA golf tournament in La Quinta, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011.

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Superstar golfers and former presidents may not be here, but that doesn't stop Alice Cooper from showing up every year to thrill at least one loyalist.

"I think you're a sweetie," said one 40-ish woman to the classic-era rocker, after he plopped an approach shot in the bunker, multiple-putted the 16th green at SilverRock Resort and made his way to his golf cart Wednesday. "I come to see you every year."

And so the Bob Hope Classic lives on.

The PGA Tour's first mainland stop of the new season is like a morning stretch, a cup of coffee and a muffin, and we all know a lot of people skip breakfast. Heck, the first major is three months away, and professional golf isn't on too many people's minds right now anyway.

The Hope helps players and fans ease their way in. The tourney is still fueled by the amateurs who pay to play and the odd assortment of musicians, athletes and actors -- many retired -- who don't have trouble finding room on their schedules for a few days of golf.

The sport, of course, was built on this now antiquated pro-am format. If football, baseball and basketball have throwback jerseys, golf has the Hope.

By Sunday, the pros who will have blistered the four friendly La Quinta courses and patiently played their way through the shrapnel of amateur hooks, slices and chunks will compete by themselves for the $900,000 first-place prize.

But the first four days? The lunatics run the asylum. Customers who pay to get in will be chasing errant shots and autographs, pretty much leaving the real golfers alone. It's good to just go with the flow.

Wednesday, the action was at SilverRock, first stop for the celebrity field. When comedian Kevin Nealon skulled a chip shot sideways, it was time for a bit.

"C'mon!" yelled Nealon, throwing his club, chasing it down, throwing it again, yelling, "C'mon!" again and feigning a club toss into the lake.

At the Masters, they'd be horrified. At the Hope, they're laughing.

This is where NBA legend Julius Erving comes, not to make you awestruck, but to make you aw-struck. As in "Aw-w-w-w," after Doctor J flubs into the sand, then escapes by hitting the ball over the far side of the green.

It's an upside-down kind of experience. Even the pros get sucked into the lowered expectations of part-time golfers. As soon as Ricky Barnes hit his tee shot over the water at the par-3 17th hole, he blurted, "Oh no!"

The ball, which appeared to be fading right, suddenly self-corrected to the left and dropped 12 feet from the hole.

Barnes' playing partner, Eric Dickerson, was impressed.

"I need an 'Oh no!' shot like that," said the former NFL running back, before cracking his ball into a giant trap 30 yards left of the pin.

It's nothing if not an odd juxtaposition -- PGA players in serious competition, surrounded by duffers, jokesters and women seeking the signature of Tony Dovolani, an annoyingly handsome guy from "Dancing With The Stars."

It's nothing if not entertaining, at least.

"Horrible!" spat comedian Ron White after punching a tee shot into some bushes.

"That's all right, Ron, you're a funny man," said an encouraging fan as White left the tee.

"Well, thanks," said White, handing his club to his caddy. "It's a good thing I don't do this for a living."

At the Hope, it's easy to forget that anyone does.

 

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