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A Healthy Plan

by Alex Smolinski on November 9, 2011

The Bill Clinton Foundation and Humana team up for the Humana Challenge

By: Jim Dover

President Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton

The PGA Tour has taken the Bob Hope Desert Classic and added a new format, a new trophy, an emphasis on healthy living… oh, and President Bill Clinton.

The formidable presence of former President Clinton will be felt throughout the desert community this January with the arrival of the Humana Challenge, January 16-22, a tournament that will focus on health and well-being as well as honoring the formerly named Bob Hope Desert Classic with a new “Bob Hope Trophy” awarded to the 2012 winner. Announced earlier this year, through the host organization Desert Classic Charities, an eight-year commitment was formed with the title sponsor Humana and the Bill Clinton Foundation. The new name was designed to “challenge” PGA players, amateur golfers and spectators to commit in a week-long celebration of healthy lifestyle options and fitness-orientated activities. A commitment that PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem hopes will carry out throughout the entire 2012 PGA Tour season.

“The average player walks 650 miles on the golf course a year,” said Finchem during a roundtable discussion in New York City with President Clinton and Humana CEO Mike McCallister. “If we can get people walking and measuring walking, then we’ll transplant it and do it all around the tour.”

President Clinton has taken the challenge himself after losing 25 pounds and limiting his caloric intake through a fairly strict diet.

“I basically don’t eat meat or dairy and rarely eat fish,” said the 42nd President. “I basically have a vegetarian life.”

No small feat considering this was once a man who famously stopped at a McDonalds during a morning jog. But Clinton’s healthy intentions were originally aimed at a much younger audience.

“What my foundation does is focus on children, but this is designed to benefit people of all ages. There’s a huge amount of evidence now that you can actually reverse heart disease with diet and exercise.”

A theme that will be emphasized throughout the tournament week including a Tuesday event that promises a few presidential favors.

“My goal on Tuesday is to get a lot of people who have done this… to make some specific commitments and see if we can leverage it up,” Clinton said.

All of the promises and star-power of a former President will still need the support of the players and a revived interest in the desert tournament stop. To that end, the Tour has made some necessary changes to the event including reducing the Pro-Am days and beginning the tournament on Thursday, while also increasing the professional spots to 144 players and allowing 16 more PGA players to compete. The new format will lose Silver Rock Resort as one of the courses in the rotation and now have just three courses in play: La Quinta Country Club, PGA West Nicklaus Private and PGA West Palmer Private. The Pro-Am format will include 144 amateurs, each alternating with a different PGA player for every day of the three-day portion of the Pro-Am tournament. The final day will be professionals only with a normal 70 plus ties cut format.

Included in the amateurs might be President Clinton himself.

“Oh, well, I hope I can,” stated the President. “I’m not very good anymore.” A fact that was not lost on one of his former political rivals and now close Republican friend during a humanitarian trip to Haiti after the earthquake. “I saw President Bush, George W. Bush, and I were doing this project in Haiti and he was ragging me. He said I’m down to a 10,” reported Clinton of the meeting.

Ironically that low handicap was equaled by Clinton during his first year out of the White House, although now his Foundation and humanitarian trips have kept him off the golf course. “I got down to a 10 handicap, but I’m not close to that now. I just don’t play enough.”

However, when the former President does get a chance to play the game he fell in love with, he usually can name drop better than most.

“I played with Luke Donald and Michael Jordan once at Conway Farms outside of Chicago,” he said frankly. “I played golf with Nicklaus two days in a row.”

Commissioner Tim Finchem, Michael Jordan & former President Bill Clinton pose on the range during practice for The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Club on October 6, 2009 in San Francisco, California.
Commissioner Tim Finchem, Michael Jordan & former President Bill Clinton pose on the range during practice for The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Club on October 6, 2009 in San Francisco, California.

Commissioner Tim Finchem, Michael Jordan & former President Bill Clinton pose on the range during practice for The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Club on October 6, 2009 in San Francisco, California.

The dream pairings undoubtedly produce great stories, and in the case of a round with fellow Arkansas native Bryce Molder, some pretty good rounds.

“He shot a 59,” stated the President. However when questioned about some of the courses President Clinton had yet to play, he almost seems like the rest of us.

“Well, I’ve never played Augusta because too many secret service.” Clinton then candidly added, “I have a wife and daughter that don’t like the no-women policy, so I dealt with that for several years.”Another course the president mentioned he would put on his golf course bucket list was Bandon Dunes in Oregon.

Whether or not President Clinton tees it up in January, the PGA Tour and the new Humana Challenge have added another worthy spot for the pros. The last time Clinton played in the former Bob Hope was in 1995, when the famous presidential pairing included President Bush and the late President Ford. That historic pairing according to Commissioner Finchem should still reap dividends for the Humana Challenge.

“They appreciate his support for what’s happened over the years,” said Finchem referring to Clinton. “So, I’ve had a number of players call and say, look, I’m going to be there without even asking.”

Certainly the Bob Hope legacy is in good hands with the health-initiative tournament and a fitting tribute for a man who lived to be 100. Hopefully, the play will be as exciting as last year’s playoff win from then rookie Jhonattan Vegas, and Humana along with the Clinton Foundation enjoy a long partnership in the California desert. Certainly the former President, in his trademark quiet confidence, is hoping for the best.

“Keep your fingers crossed for us,” Clinton said at the end of his press conference. “This might work.”

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