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The 2018 edition of the PGA CareerBuilder Challenge ended late on Sunday, Jan. 21, after four days, four regulation rounds and four sudden-death playoff holes—with Jon Rahm celebrating his second career PGA win, just moments before a dramatic Sunday sunset.

After Day 1, Rahm was in the lead by one shot. At the end of Days 2 and 3, he remained within a few shots of the leader, and came from behind to tie Andrew Landry after 72 holes. Then came sudden death.

In the post-match press conference, the 23-year-old Rahm—the latest in a long line of dominant PGA Tour players from Spain including Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia—described the drama of play on those final sudden-death holes.

“On the first hole, I hit probably one of the best (shots). Actually, each time I played 18, I hit probably one of the best 3-woods I'm going to hit all year,” he said. “(Then, I) hit a great shot to nine feet. … I was really confident I was going to make that putt. I know the break; I know how it was, and I think that the nerves might have gotten the best of me, and pulled it a little bit.”

After two more deadlocked holes, Rahm and Landry came back to the 18th for yet another attempt to anoint a winner. “Once we got back to 18,” Rahm said, “I was really aware that it was going to be probably the last hole that we were going to play today, and I did not want to come back the next day and play it. I was really glad I had the opportunity to putt first. I wanted to putt first, because I felt something in me. I just trusted myself, trusted my stroke and hit (the ball at) a little-bit-below-perfect speed and caught the lip, and (it) went in. I’m sure glad Andrew didn’t make the last putt. But again you got to give props and congrats to Andrew.”

Other notable winners were revealed on Saturday, when sponsor CareerBuilder announced the awarding of 500 scholarships to four Boys and Girls Clubs in the Coachella Valley. The scholarships will enable 125 underprivileged children to enroll at each of the four participating clubs by covering the costs associated with sending a child to one of the clubs for a year. Roughly 80 current members attended the announcement and spent the day learning about the professional commitments from the tour pros, while enjoying the action on the course—as well as on the concert stage, where the Goo Goo Dolls performed.

One young valley resident fell short of his goal Charlie Reiter, the popular Palm Desert High School senior playing in the pro section of the draw courtesy of a sponsor exemption, missed the cut for Sunday’s final round after shooting 5-over par on Saturday.

See more photos from the tournament below.

Published in Snapshot

Jon Rahm, the current No. 3 player in the world, carved up the La Quinta Country Club course on his way to a 62—and the lead of the 2018 PGA CareerBuilder Championship after the first day of play.

Familiar names in the PGA golfing world like Patrick Reed, Canadian fan favorite Mike Weir (back after missing last year’s tournament) and player ambassador Phil Mickelson were among the field playing over the three competition courses—the PGA West Stadium Course and Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and the La Quinta Country Club course.

But the talk of Day 1, both among players and fans, was the debut appearance of 17-year-old golfing phenom and Palm Desert High School senior Charles Reiter. Reiter performed well, shooting a 4-under-par 68—which put him two shots ahead of that all-time fan favorite, Phil Mickelson, at the end of the day.

After several days of primetime press attention, the self-described nervous teenager overcame all the pressure.

“From the beginning, I kind of was just trying to have fun,” Reiter said at a post-round press conference. “I was trying to settle my nerves on the first tee, took a little slow start, and then I kind of got settled in, and had a lot of fun out there.”

With his father dealing with some health issues, Reiter’s longtime coach, Dave Stockton Jr., took over caddying duties for the precocious golfer. “It's actually really nice to have somebody who is … one of my really good friends. I’ve known him since I was 10,” Reiter said. “Having him on the bag, knowing that he's played out on these courses and won out here, allows me to be more comfortable on the course, knowing that he will be able to help me play through the course.”

Reiter’s ability to crush his tee shots has drawn quite a bit of attention from the other players in Coachella Valley this week. So what are his expectations for this weekend?

“Just go out and have fun—that’s it,” he said.

Tickets for the remaining days of play are $30 per day and include access to tented viewing venues, offering lots of different food and drink options, as well as end of day concerts—Huey Lewis and the News on Friday, and the Goo Goo Dolls on Saturday.

See photos from Day 1 below.

Published in Snapshot

Coachella Valley got a break from stormy weather on Saturday, as predicted—but the sunshine didn’t necessarily translate into better play across the three enjoyable La Quinta courses of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

However, it did if your name was Adam Hadwin. Playing at the La Quinta Country Club, Hadwin became only the second player in the tournament’s long history—and the eighth in PGA Tour history—to shoot a 59.

“I think it makes tomorrow harder,” Hadwin, a Canadian, said in his post-round interview. “They say one of hardest things in golf is to follow up a low round. The Stadium Course is a much tougher course than La Quinta. It’s a Sunday. I’ve got a chance to win a golf tournament. That’s what you want.”

The feat vaulted him into a one-shot lead at the close of play on Sunday.

Meanwhile, other players—including local favorite Brendan Steele, as well as Hudson Swafford and Dominic Bozzelli—who had been standing near the top of the leaderboard for the first two days managed to post scores that kept them in the running. New tournament ambassador Phil Mickelson struggled a bit on the PGA West Stadium Course, and found himself heading in the wrong direction on Saturday, shooting a one-over-par 73.

The stage was set for what was predicted to be a soggy and potentially chaotic finish on Sunday, when all the players who survived the cut would congregate at the Stadium Course for a battle to the finish. As had been the case on Friday, the weather forecasts for Sunday were so threatening that the tee time for the entire field was moved up an hour, to 7:30 a.m., in hopes that the early start would allow golf to be completed before the third major storm of the weekend bore down on the valley.

As the final rounds began, 12 players were within five shots of the lead. Even though the rain did stay away, risk aversion seemed to be the strategy adopted by many players at the front of the pack, as they showed uncharacteristic restraint while playing the notoriously dangerous layout at PGA West. In the end, early-round leader Hudson Swafford’s 5-under 67 won the tournament, with his two biggest birdies coming on the 16th and 17th holes as he let loose his power game.

It was his first career victory on the PGA Tour. “They don’t give them away out here,” Swafford told the media after his win. “It’s not easy. I've been close. I’ve been in the hunt lately, and this just feels unbelievable.”

Earlier in the day, CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson and Desert Classic Charities president and chairman of the board John Foster sat down with reporters to talk about the future of the event, which has long been a staple of the valley’s sporting season. Ferguson was asked if the presence of Roger Clemens and Joe Carter portended a return to the star-studded celebrity fields that came out to join Bob Hope when it was his tournament.

“It was nice that Roger and other celebrities came out and played (this year),” Ferguson said. “I mean, I’m never going to recruit like Bob Hope. I think that was a unique individual and a unique time. But I think as we have more years to plan and talk to people, and more celebrities want to come out, we’d love to have them.”

Foster said he was hoping to build more excitement with the tourney. “I think you’ll see Phil (Mickelson) getting a little more involved,” he said. “Already, there’ve been a number of changes. A lot of things you saw (this past weekend), like Fitz and the Tantrums (who played a concert on the driving range after play on Saturday evening), were kind of like experiments. I think everybody who we’ve seen was very excited, and it lit a nice fire. We would probably look to enlarge that aspect a little. We’re a golf tournament first, but we’re entertaining guests to raise money for charity.”

Published in Snapshot

As I pulled on my rain boots before driving to PGA West at 6 a.m., Friday, Jan. 20, a KMIR meteorologist on the TV screen was issuing a warning about the continuous and dangerous weather that would soon engulf the Coachella Valley.

However, the rain was late to arrive at the “U.S. politics-free zone” media center at PGA West’s Stadium Course. There were persistent showers as play began on Thursday, but for the most part, mixed clouds and sunshine on the first two days of play provided a beautiful and dramatic backdrop for some sterling play on the three La Quinta courses. In fact, as of the halfway point in play, the only party to suffer from the incessant forecasts of terrible weather was the resurgent 2017 PGA CareerBuilder Challenge Tournament itself: Spectators and fans had been scarce, and that’s not good news for the concessions and vendors who have seen very few customers.

The adventurous attendees who ignored the warnings were treated to a number of entertaining opportunities. It’s not often that a fan can enjoy an up-close-and-personal vantage point to watch perennial crowd favorite Phil Mickelson play. Normally surrounded by hundreds of fans wherever he goes, Mickelson teed off on Friday at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course in front of about two dozen spectators. This past offseason, he accepted the role of golfing ambassador for this tournament, and this week marks his first competitive rounds since his knee surgery. Much to the pleasure of his many supporters, he finished Day 2 tied for sixth place, just four shots off the lead.

In other news, some big-name baseball celebrities joined the amateur field this year. Multiple-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens is playing, as is slugger Joe Carter, best remembered for winning the 1993 World Series with a walk-off home run for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Local PGA favorite Brendan Steele from Idyllwild is here again. Already a winner at the Safeway Open in this PGA wrap-around season that’s just begun, Steele shot an 8-under-par 64 on Friday to put him just two shots back of leader, Hudson Swafford, who carded back-to-back 65s. Should Swafford hold on to win, it would give him his very first PGA victory. Last year’s winner, Jason Dufner, is back, too, along with many of the tour’s top players.

Just before play wound down on Friday, it began pouring. The good news is that Saturday’s weather was expected to be clear and dry. Alas, more rain is in the forecast for Sunday.

Published in Snapshot

In 2017, there will quite a few changes taking place at the annual local PGA Tour event that many of us still call the Bob Hope Classic.

For the second year, the tournament—celebrating its 58th year in January—is officially called the CareerBuilder Challenge. However, the Clinton Foundation, which had played a role in the tournament since 2012, is no longer involved—and there’s a new man in charge, too.

The tournament will be run by a self-described “golf nerd”—Dallas native Nick Raffaele, 53. Raffaele has extensive golf-industry experience and was upbeat about the tournament.

“I am a glass-half-full kind of guy,” he said. “I salute the work done by (previous sponsor) Humana in helping stabilize the event. We here in the Coachella Valley are lucky to have a PGA Tour event because of our size and population. We are basically in a rural area, and without some great work previously done, who knows if the tournament would be here?”

Raffaele was not shy about addressing complaints from some about the Clinton Foundation’s association with the tournament, which concluded last year.

“The (Clinton Foundation) was brought in by their partnership with Humana, not by the PGA,” Raffaele said. “Again, I believe the community owes a deep debt of gratitude to Humana for stepping in” when the tournament faced an uncertain future. “We will continue to make sure this event serves local charities. It is part of our mission statement.”

In 2017, the event will also have a new ambassador—golfing great Phil Mickelson. Mickelson recently underwent surgery for a sports hernia, and at this time, it’s not clear whether Mickelson will be able to play in the tourney. Regardless, Raffaele is not concerned.

“We want Phil playing at 100 percent,” he said. “As crazy as it sounds, it may be beneficial if he can just stay and hear and learn up-close everything the tournament encapsulates.

“Both Phil and the CareerBuilder Challenge expect a long and lasting partnership. Phil is committed 100 percent, and when you talk about the current stars of golf, few get any bigger.”

One of the things Raffaele praises about the event is the on-site volunteer staff.

“The people who volunteer are the ones who see the value in the tournament being here in the Coachella Valley,” Raffaele said. “We couldn’t do it without them. We want them to know they are important. The other day, I was with Lee Morcus of Kaiser Grille, and he was extremely gracious in donating gift cards for our volunteers, totally unsolicited. It is that kind of spirit that makes this tournament what it is.”

The CareerBuilder Challenge kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 19, with play at three courses in the East Valley. A whole week of events begins Monday, Jan. 16. For tickets, event information and details on deals for locals, visit www.careerbuilderchallenge.com.

Steve Kelly can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Sports

Play began in this year’s Coachella Valley PGA tournament stop—formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, more recently as the Humana Challenge, and now as the CareerBuilder Challenge—on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Tour pros teed off at the La Quinta Country Club (the only layout to return from last year’s competitive three courses), the Nicklaus Tournament Course and, most surprisingly, the TPC Stadium Course. Players took on this challenging 18 holes for the first time—and, until this year, the last time—in tour competition in 1987.

It’s fair to say quite a bit has changed in the pro-golf world in the interim—much of it fueled by the impressive amount of money at stake. In 2016, the total purse for the entire tour season is roughly $330 million. Also, the simple game of golf—hit a ball with a well-manufactured but twisted stick until you knock it into a hole—now generates some $3.4 billion annually in consumer revenue in the U.S. alone. This gold mine has given rise to lucrative commercial-sponsorship opportunities

For each well-sponsored pro, every Thursday marks the first day of competition for that week’s tour stop—and it also signals the day they have to acquiesce to a skilled inspection by Palm Desert resident Buff White and his colleagues at the Darrell Survey Company.

“When people read golf magazines, and there’s a statement of fact regarding golf equipment and accessories—like a company says, ‘We have the No. 1 wedge on tour,’ or ‘the No. 1 fairway wood,’ then it would have to be verified by a third party, which is the Darrell Survey Company,” White said during an interview at the TPC Stadium Course this week. “We’ve been doing that since 1933.”

White, who became a permanent resident of Woodhaven Country Club in 2010 but traveled 46 weeks for the job last year, has been going through pro and amateur golfers’ bags on the first tee of every tournament’s first day of competition for 29 years.

“We check the equipment that the players are actually using to make sure that they are living up to their sponsorship contracts,” White said. “And, for the PGA, we’re making sure that nobody has illegal equipment in the bag, or too many clubs, or if they’re breaking any PGA regulations.”

Since the Coachella Valley stop comes so early in the calendar year, it presents special challenges to these PGA compliance representatives.

“For the first four events in January of each year, equipment changes like crazy,” White said. “These guys have had a few weeks off, so they’ve been able to practice with new golf balls, new wedges, new putters and new drivers, and everybody is always tweaking their equipment a little bit. This tournament is always tough, because you have amateurs playing, and the manufacturers always want to know what clubs are in their bags as well. But the amateurs sometimes don’t know what’s in their bag, so that makes it really tough, because they may have too many clubs, or they’ve got seven hybrids—and it’s a little bit disconcerting.”

What are the ramifications of these last-minute survey inspections? Is any corrective or punitive action taken right there and then as players are about to start?

“Sometimes, but usually nothing happens right then,” White said. “We’re not there to get into their heads. They know if they’re trying to use an illegal club, and sometimes they’ll do weird things. Like sometimes, they’ll tee off without a driver in their bag, and they’ll leave it on the third-hole tee box and pick it up when they get there. Or a guy will (think), ‘I’m under contract with company “X,” but I don’t want to play that driver,’ so they’ll show you the right driver, and then they’ll go pull a different one out of the starter’s tent on the first tee. So we’re always on our toes and looking for that guy who’s trying to figure out a way to get around the rules or his deal obligations.”

On rare occasions, though, if a player blatantly flouts the regulations, he could be penalized strokes or be disqualified from the tournament.

“Usually, other players will rat a guy out” said White with a chuckle. “If they think one of the guys is spinning the ball like crazy, they’ll go to a rules official and say, ‘We want you to look at this guy’s wedges,’ and the official would go right to the player and tell him that they need to verify the grooves on the club face.”

When White approached the bag of fan favorite Phil Mickelson on the first tee at the La Quinta Country Club on yesterday’s first day of play, you could read tension in the exchange between White and Phil’s caddy, whose nickname is Bones. (See the first picture below.)

“Phil doesn’t change anything in his bag usually very much, and Bones, his caddy, isn’t the easiest guy to deal with at times,” White said afterward. “He makes the tee box seem like it’s his office space, and it’s not like a golf course to him. So when he’s done with you, he’s done with you. But Phil had made a lot of changes today, which, like I said, he normally doesn’t make. But Bones was courteous enough to say ‘OK, did you get it all?’ Phil asked me the same thing. So, it took me right up to the last second, but, yeah, I got it all. It was all right.”

So, too, should be this year’s PGA Career Builder Challenge, which wraps up on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Published in Features

The 2015 Humana Challenge Championship was still up for grabs as the last group, containing the sole leader, Bill Haas, came down the 18th fairway on the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West in La Quinta.

Waiting, watching and keeping loose on the driving range were five players, including Idyllwild’s Brendan Steele, who had finished their rounds tied at 21 under par—one shot behind Haas.

“The tournament’s definitely not over from my perspective,” Steele said as he waited for more than an hour to see if his 21-under total would get him into a playoff. “With the water on the last couple holes, anybody can make a bad swing at any time, so you just kind of hang out and see what’s happening. I can’t act like, ‘Hey, I did a good job, but it’s not enough, and I’m going to go home.’ I’ve got to be ready, just in case anything does happen.”

However, the jailbreak playoff was not to be, as Haas battled to a final-hole par and took home the $1 million-plus paycheck.

Meanwhile, fan favorite Phil Mickelson finished in a tie for 24th place, 7 shots off the lead—and it seemed the weekend was just what he needed. As he wound his way around the three courses, he seemed relaxed and unconcerned. For the first three days, he played a convivial and charming host to the amateur players in his group. Whether regaling them with amusing anecdotes or generously offering helpful tips, Mickelson seemed to be at ease.

“I’ve got some things to improve on, but it was a good week to kind of build a foundation (and) work on my game,” Mickelson told the media after his last round. “We had great weather. That allows you to work on the fundamentals and get the swing basics down without having to fight the elements, without getting into bad habits.”

How does the 2015 season ahead look to these two players?

“I’ve been feeling really, really good, shooting good scores at home,” Steele shared. “I know that doesn’t always translate, but I’m just seeing a big difference in my game.”

Meanwhile, Mickelson said he was excited for the upcoming year.

“I feel I’m ready to go, ready to get started,” he said. “It was a good week to get the year started. Now we’ll see the next two weeks if I can get that fine-tuning done and shoot the low scores I need.”

Scroll down to see several photos from the Humana Challenge.

Published in Snapshot