Clinton's presence has filled Humana; now it's time to play

Jack Peter/World Golf Hall of Fame
President Bill Clinton has been easily accessible to media and fans all week at the Humana Challenge.
January 20, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- He has no idea what his handicap is right now.

"But it's high," President Bill Clinton said with a knowing smile and a good-natured shrug of his shoulders. "I'm going to have to play better than I normally do to keep Greg Norman from ragging me about it for the rest of my natural life."


The legendary Aussie is likely to cut the 42nd President some slack on Saturday when the two play together in the third round of the Humana Challenge on the Palmer Course at PGA West. Also in the foursome that tees off at 1:20 p.m. ET will be PGA TOUR veteran Scott McCarron and Mike McCallister, the CEO of Humana, which has partnered with the Clinton Foundation to breathe new life into the tournament once known as the Bob Hope Classic.

Saturday actually marks Clinton's second appearance in the PGA TOUR event in the stunning, scenic Coachella Valley. He was barely two years into his first term when he came to play -- at the urging of his friend Bob Hope, just as Clinton prevailed on Norman this year -- with two former Presidents in George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, and Scott Hoch.

"I remember that the three of us were uncommonly bad that day," Clinton said on Friday as he spoke to a small group of reporters standing about 10 feet away from a glass case that displays his prized Calamity Jane putter. "... I'd come out here and got here at 3 o'clock in the morning from the White House. I'd gotten about 3 hours sleep .. and on the first tee, Ford and Bush both hit the ball to the left and I skied mine to the right.

"Thank goodness, for me, all the people were on the left. So they got credit for the casualties but I wasn't playing a bit better than they were."

Bob Hope, who was 91 at the time, played about four holes with the presidential trio. "He sang to us all the way," Clinton recalled with a grin. He also remembers Scott Hoch playing as well tee-to-green as "I believe I have ever seen. If (he) had made every putt he had from seven feet or less, he would have shot 60 or 61.

"I played bad but I had a great time."

So many reporters came to cover the first round in 1995 that a separate media facility was erected for the White House press corps. Fans parked at a remote location that February day and were bussed to the main gate at Indian Wells Country Club. Security there was similar to what you see at an airport, and once the spectators were cleared, they still had to walk about a half mile just to get to the course.

Not so this year. While he has his own security detail, to be sure, Clinton has been omnipresent and surprisingly accessible at the Humana Challenge -- casually shaking hands with fans in the gallery and renewing acquaintances, including one with a man he first met in northwest Arkansas in 1974. The man's wife worked on Clinton's first political campaign some 38 years ago.

Health Matters
Humana Challenge week kicked off with the Health Matters conference, featuring President Bill Clinton and PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. Read about it here.

He's clearly enjoyed the interaction with the fans, as well as with the players and their wives. Notah Begay, a four-time PGA TOUR champ who has a foundation to promote wellness among the Native American population, was one of the panelists at Clinton's "Health Matters" conference on Tuesday. The President hopes to get more TOUR players involved in future sessions, too.

Clinton said he was particularly impressed when he met Heather Crane, whose husband Ben is tied for the Humana Challenge lead with David Toms and Mark Wilson. Heather serves on the board of Love 146, an organization that is dedicated to eradicating child sex trafficking, and she told Clinton how much she appreciated the interest his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has taken in the cause.

"(Heather) told me that she had personally been to Cambodia and Thailand to try to stop young girls being sold into sexual bondage, and I thought to myself, I'll bet there is not one percent of the golf fans, much less the population of America, that have any idea that anyone associated with the TOUR, including the wife of a prominent player, works on that issue," Clinton said. "That was a really good thing."

Clinton said he is proud of the way the tournament has been received. He wrote some letters to different pros but he only made two phone calls -- one to his good friend Norman and the other to Phil Mickelson, who had already planned to play. "So it was all about whether we could work together on health-related issues because his foundation, that he runs with his wife Amy, is very committed to health and education issues," Clinton said.

The President said he gives Humana a lot of credit for its vision and the way the health care company is promoting wellness, as well as to PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem for having the "imagination" to bring the three organizations together in such an innovative way. This week isn't a one-shot deal for Clinton, either -- "I signed on for this," he said. "First, I'm having a good time but it's also my responsibility."

Just before he came to meet with reporters on Friday, Clinton had been out watching PGA TOUR rookie Erik Compton play. There in the phenomenally impressive 32-year-old, Clinton sees everything he's been working so hard to advance.

"I just watched Erik Compton hit a 300-yard drive," Clinton marveled. "He's had two heart transplants and he does not go around the course in a cart. He walks.

"And you think if someone can overcome all the real problems that he's overcome to live the life that he's living, then the rest of us ought to do a better job of staying healthy enough that we don't bankrupt the health care system and we don't undermine the ability of our children to raise our grandchildren and we don't raise the first generation of kids to have shorter lifespans than their parents."