The Hope Isnt Just a Cakewalk

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OK, the average winning score the last umpteen tournaments was 66 or less. Thats over five rounds on par-72 courses.
 
Why, you ask, do the layouts which comprise the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic have such user-friendly scores? Must be because the courses are so simple.
 
Not so fast, Sherlock Holmes. The Hope courses, as a rule, are short. But there are a lot of other factors which figure into the equation. These courses in the California desert, all within a driver and a wedge of Palm Springs, arent the dollhouse set-ups you might imagine.
 
Start with pristine conditioning. The weather in the desert this time of year is perfect for golf. Grasses grow well with no heat stress on them. Rarely is there a bare spot in the fairways. The greens are perfect for rolling putts. Therefore, a ton of putts are usually made with the greens rolling true. Ergo, lower scores.
 
Most of all, though, lower scores are a product of professionals playing with amateurs. The Hope is a pro-am for four days (the fifth is totally pros.) And as such, the courses have to be set up to get the amateurs around through 18 holes in one day ' preferably five hours or so.
 
This means that the holes cant be cut three paces from the edge of the green, for example. Holes wont be cut directly over a bunker. And holes wont be cut perilously close to water.
 
The fairways? They are w-i-d-e. No railroad-track routing here. Remember, you dont want the amateur to have to waste an undue amount of time searching for balls which have strayed off the fairways. So ' you just make pretty much the whole course a fairway. And ' of course 'the rough, what there is of it, is considerably trimmed. All in the interest of getting the ams around before dark.
 
These factors make a difference of, say, three shots a round. Instead of an average score of 66, lets say the average winners score would be 69 on the typical course.
 
The fact that amateurs play alongside the pros, and the fact that the courses are set up so generously, is the reason some of the pros bypass them. Certainly not all the professionals who skip the Hope are anti-amateur. But enough of them are to make a dent in the field. In the Hope, the pro plays with four different groups of amateurs in the four days. At Pebble Beach, the pro often can select his amateur partner, and that partner plays with him the entire tournament. Not at the Hope. And that is just one more reason to stay home, if youre inclined to bypass this tournament anyway.
 
Of course, many professionals enjoy playing with the amateurs. Mark OMeara won five times at Pebble Beach and added a sixth pro-am victory when he won at Disney. He enjoys the guys, banters with them easily and mixes very well with the gents on the golf course.
 
Justin Leonard won the Hope last year, and he actually pencils this tournament in among the first each year.
 
Ive loosened up on the golf course, and I enjoy playing at the Hope, he said. Ive been in the celebrity rotation since I started playing, and I really enjoy it.
 
The celebrity rotation is a Hope oddity in which the top pros play each day with the celebrities. Some pros dont particularly like the celebrity rotation ' they can ask out of the rota, as Phil Mickelson did. The pros who play with the celebs are constantly besieged by cameras, along with the mostly good-natured antics of their high-profile partners.

I had a little difficulty in the early 90s playing in that rotation, said Mickelson. I had a few instances occur. So I ended up not coming back for five or six years.
 
And then I got a call from the tournament director at the time who said, Listen, every player in the field has the right to opt out of the celebrity rotation; and I did, and that's when I started coming back and really enjoying it. It's just it's very hard to get into good competitive frame of mind (playing with the celebrities.) It's just quieter (playing with the other ams.)
 
Others dont particularly care. Last year, Leonard partnered with actor Samuel L. Jackson and actor/comedians George Lopez and Cheech Marin in the celebrity rotation.
 
I had a ball. Sam is over there contemplating the game of golf and what it means, all this other stuff. And Cheech and George are trying to figure out who has had the best one-liner so far. That just cracks me up, Leonard said.
 
And, there is another advantage, he believes.
 
The spotlight is as much or more on the celebrities and amateurs as it is on the pros those first few days, Leonard said. To be quite honest, thats kind of nice. I enjoy that.
 
Mike Weir, a winner here in 2003, also enjoys the celebrities. It's fun, he said. It's a fun chance to mingle with some people that are not just sports celebrities, but different celebrities and you get a chance to talk to them and see how they hand handle certain things. It's a nice change. It's a nice format.
 
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