Legendary golf course designer Pete Dye passed away in 2019 but his legacy will live on as generations of golfers and PGA Tour players will compete on his courses. Indeed, the recently titled American Express, previously known as the Desert Classic, visits a Dye design.
The Stadium Course at PGA West one of two courses used for this pro-am along with the Nicklaus Course, which is also at PGA West.
The inaugural Desert Classic was played in 1960, won by the legendary 7-time major winner Arnold Palmer. In fact it is Palmer who has the most Desert Classic victories with 5 in total.
|Stadium Course, PGA West||La Quinta, California||7,133 Yards||$6,700,000|
|Nicklaus Course, PGA West||7,204 Yards|
The first thing to note about the courses used for The American Express this year is that there are only two of them. In years gone by when this tournament was known as the Bob Hope Classic, a combination of professionals and big-name amateur golfers from various walks of life would compete over as many as four courses. More recently it took place over three courses from the Coachella Valley but it’s all change this year. Ongoing health concerns forced the PGA Tour to cancel the pro-am nature of The American Express and keep the players at PGA West rather than see them travel around the locale.
Even without big names from the worlds of entertainment, sport and business and with the tournament being played amid a pandemic, The American Express will retain a fair amount of its laid back nature. Part of that is due to the ease with which both the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Course play. We may not see scoring quite as low as in Waialae last week but we expect the winning score to be better than -20.
PGA West is a quality enough facility to host some of the world’s best golfers but it is a resort course playing host to holidaymakers for the bulk of the year. The organisers can only do so much to toughen up the challenge that it poses. With such a high calibre of player in the field of 156, these short par 72 layouts are going to yield a lot of birdies.
The American Express Betting Tips
As we’ve already seen, low scoring is very much the order of the day at The American Express. The Stadium Course may be a Pete Dye design with more than a passing resemblance to the course of the same name at TPC Sawgrass but it is nothing like as challenging, especially with the benign weather conditions in the forecast for La Quinta during the tournament.
Although this is a million miles from the sort of mental test of a baked US Open layout, the sheer number of birdies required to have a chance of winning The American Express provides a mental challenge of its own. Andrew Landry made an incredible 31 birdies from his 72 holes last year. Keeping pace with that sort of relentless scoring is no easy task however accommodating the course.
Sungjae Im - 20/1
Sungaje Im is one of the best birdie makers on the whole PGA Tour. The South Korean player has utilised his aggressive style of golf to earn one PGA Tour win and two on the Korn Ferry Tour at the age of 22. He is sometimes criticised for being too gung-ho and there is little doubt that a certain lack of experience has cost him chances to improve on his winning tally but if there’s one event that suits Sungjae’s approach to the game of golf it’s The American Express.
His two starts at the tournament yielded results of 12th and 10th. That is no mean feat given that experience has proven to be an important indicator of success at this event in the past. Buoyed by that positive experience and a decent start to the year with a fifth-place finish at the Tournament of Champions, Sungjae is in a very good position to capitalise on what he does best and pick up a second PGA Tour win at generous looking odds of 20/1.
Rickie Fowler - 40/1
Rickie Fowler is one of those names that always crops up in discussions about golfers who have failed to live up to their potential. There was a huge amount of excitement about Fowler when he burst onto the scene both because of his golfing ability and his image which wasn’t quite like anything else in the sport at the time. By the standards of most professionals, Fowler has already had a very good career with the Players Championship amongst his nine global wins but there is always the nagging feeling that he should have done more by now and, most alarmingly, his recent form has seen him slip out of the world’s top 50 for the first time in over 10 years.
The good news for Fowler is that 32 year old golfers have a much longer shelf life than most other professional athletes. He could very easily have his best days still ahead of him and after a break from competitive action, The American Express could be the perfect tournament for him to rediscover his form. Fowler needs a good week some stage soon if he is to earn his way into the field for the Masters and he can build on his top 10 finish at this event last year to return for those who support him each way at 40/1.
Phil Mickelson - 50/1
Phil Mickelson’s previous outings at The American Express have been a case of feast or famine. His last five years at the event have yielded the following results: 3-21-MC-2-MC. Such is the nature of a golfer who can switch from awesome to awful in the space of two shots.
Mickelson won’t get the support that he is used to from the thronging galleries in California this week due to restrictions on movement in the state but he has reason to feel confident about his chances. Since turning 50, Mickelson has thoroughly enjoyed himself on the Champions Tour with highlights including winning on his debut at the Charles Schwab Series. He will win many more titles on the Champions Tour but is not yet done winning on the PGA Tour and after finishing second in The American Express last year it would be wrong to count him out for another push at the title at 50/1.
The American Express Recent Winners
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2020||Andrew Landry||-26||2 Strokes|
|2019||Adam Long||-26||1 Stroke|
|2017||Hudson Swafford||-20||1 Stroke|
|2015||Bill Haas||-22||1 Stroke|
|2014||Patrick Reed||-28||2 Strokes|
|2012||Mark Wilson||-24||2 Strokes|
About the American Express
The PGA Tour was inaugurated way back in 1929. That is a long time for things to change considerably with both the tour and golf itself. There are a number of ways to chart the changes of the PGA Tour over time. One of them is with the sponsors who have got involved over the years.
The naming rights for a PGA Tour event are expensive and sponsors change regularly, in some cases each year. Therefore, so do the names of the tournaments. The American Express is just the latest name for a tournament that has, in recent years gone by the Desert Classic presented by Workday, the CareerBuilder Challenge and the Humana Challenge.
It’s rare to have a tournament with a name that doesn’t have any nod to it actually being a golf tournament. There’s no championship, open or even pro-am at the end of the name of this one, it’s simply called The American Express. Strange as that may be, the new nomenclature reflects a tournament that is shedding some of its past image and trying to establish itself as a serious event that attracts the biggest names in golf rather than the biggest names in show business.
No More Glitz or Glamour
Golf has always had well-worn links with the worlds of business, entertainment and politics. A number of professional tournaments have made the most of those links by bringing in famous faces to promote and, in the case of the American Express, participate in their tournaments.
For 20 years, the event was known as the Bob Hope Classic. Hope was the most successful and most famous comedian in the world for a large part of his career and he delighted in utilising his fame and pulling power to attract the likes of Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood and Bing Crosby. Then there were the politicians with some of the most recognisable faces in Washington taking part including former presidents.
Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to compete in the first day of the 1995 tournament. His association with the event continued in 2012 when the Bob Hope Classic became the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton regularly attended to boost the charitable donations to their foundation.
At that stage, the tournament shifted from being a five day event into a four day event, held over three courses. Whilst it remains a pro-am, the American Express no longer has the same star quality as celebrities have gradually been phased out from competing.
A Tournament for Long Shots
Despite the Bob Hope Classic being one of the most popular tournaments in golf, Tiger Woods routinely gave it a swerve. He wasn’t golf’s only star who felt that five days of painfully slow pro-am golf was not worth the hassle. That has changed a little with the reversion to a four day tournament in 2012 but pro-ams take significantly longer than your run of the mill event and leave the professionals with responsibilities that they usually only have to deal with in the Wednesday warm up.
Add three host courses into the mix and it is little surprise that more recent editions of the American Express have seen so many long shots win the title. 2020 winner, Andrew Landry, may have fit the bill nicely in terms of the style of golf needed to win around La Quinta Country Club and the Stadium and Tournament Courses at PGA West but he was available at a general price of 200/1 before his win.
One year before Landry’s win and Adam Long won at a monster price of 600/1. Jon Rahm was a much more predictable winner in 2018 when he won at 10/1 but he was the only winner priced under 30/1 between 2010 and 2020, as you can see in the below list of winners.
Winners and Their Odds: 2011 to 2020