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.
|PGA West||La Quinta, California||7,113 yards & 7,204 yards||$6,700,000|
The American Express Recent Winners
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin||Course|
|2021||Kim Si-woo||-23||1 Stroke||PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2020||Andrew Landry||-26||2 Strokes||La Quinta, PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2019||Adam Long||-26||1 Stroke||La Quinta, PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2018||Jon Rahm||-22||Playoff||La Quinta, PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2017||Hudson Swafford||-20||1 Stroke||La Quinta, PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2016||Jason Dufner||-25||Playoff||La Quinta, PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2015||Bill Haas||-22||1 Stroke||La Quinta, PGA West, Nicklaus|
|2014||Patrick Reed||-28||2 Strokes||La Quinta, Nicklaus|
|2013||Brian Gay||-25||Playoff||La Quinta, Nicklaus|
|2012||Mark Wilson||-24||2 Strokes||La Quinta, Nicklaus|
The first thing to note about the courses used for The American Express 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.
The pro-am nature of The American Express gives the tournament a 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 at some other events 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.
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