PGA Tour Picks: The American Express

By Tom LaMarre

The PGA Tour returns to the United States mainland this week to start the West Coast Swing with one of its oldest tournaments, which has a new name.

The American Express, which was most famously known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, kicks off on Thursday on the Stadium Course at PGA West, the host course, plus the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club, near Palm Springs.

Famed entertainer Hope put his name on the tournament in 1965 and it remained there for eight years after his death until 2011.

In another new twist this year, two-time tournament winner Phil Mickelson will host the event, and The Mickelson Foundation is the host organization, after Lefty had a lower profile role of ambassador in recent years.

“American Express asked that myself and my foundation take on a bigger role; the PGA Tour asked that we take on a bigger role,” said the 49-year-old Mickelson, who captured the tournament title in 2002 and 2004, two of his 20 PGA Tour victories (among 44 total) in California and Arizona on the West Coast Swing. “My wife, Amy, and I have decided that this is the right fit, and we want to have a more direct involvement in the charitable support and contributions here in the valley.

“My role has been get the message out on why and how this tournament is the best place to start the year (for those golfers who did not play in the two Hawaii events) because we have perfect weather, which is why the courses are by the mountain. So we don’t have wind, so that we give the players a chance to build a foundation for the upcoming year.

“Now we have the partner that we want to bring it to a whole other level.”

The tournament started out in 1960 as the Palm Springs Desert Golf Classic, when Arnold Palmer claimed the first of his record five titles in the event, which has an illustrious list of winners.

Mickelson, Billy Casper, John Cook, Bill Haas, John Mahaffey, Johnny Miller and Corey Pavin all claimed the title twice, and other winners include Billy Maxwell, Tommy Jacobs, Doug Sanders, Bob Rosburg, Hubert Green, Bill Rogers, Justin Leonard, Craig Stadler, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Fred Couples and David Duval.

Adam Long claimed his first PGA Tour victory by one stroke over Mickelson and Adam Hadwin of Canada last year, and other recent winners include Jon Rahm of Spain in 2018 and Patrick Reed in 2014.

Among those hoping to add their name to that list this year are Rickie Fowler (pictured), Francesco Molinari of Italy, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Tony Finau, Paul Casey of England and Kevin Kisner, plus rising stars Sungjae Im of South Korea, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Matthew Wolff, Xinjun Zhang of China, Cameron Champ, Sebastian Munoz of Colombia and Aaron Wise.

The winner will accept the trophy from Mickelson, although Lefty hopes to keep it to himself for a third time.

For first-round tee times, visit


  1. Rickie Fowler, United StatesEven though he grew up only about a two-hour drive from La Quinta in Murrieta, Fowler is making only his third start in the desert, having tied for 33rd in 2014 and missed the cut in 2010. Coming off a 1-0-3 record in the Presidents Cup and a tie for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.
  2. Sungjae Im, South Korea – The 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is off to another strong start after finishing second at Sanderson Farms and tying for third in the Zozo Championship, posting his fifth top-25 finish by tying for 21st in the Sony Open in Hawaii. Im tied for 12th in La Quinta last year, shooting 65-64 in the middle rounds.
  3. 3. Francesco Molinari, Italy – After getting the new PGA Tour season started by tying for 23rd in the Safeway Open and tying for 22nd in the WGC-HSBC Champions, Molinari opens 2020 with his fourth start in the California Desert, with a tie for 10th in 2015 his best result. Last of his three U.S. titles came in 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
  4. Tony Finau, United States – Flew back to the U.S. after finishing fifth in the Hong Kong Open on the Asian Tour on Sunday following a 1-0-3 mark in the Presidents Cup last month. Tied for ninth in Shriners early this season, but has not played well in two starts in the California desert, tying for 59th in 2015 and missing the cut the next year.
  5. Paul Casey, England – Coming off a year in which he won the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour and the Porsche European Open on the European Tour, Casey tied for 19th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago. However, he hasn’t had much success in the California desert, tying for 58th in 2017 after missing the cut twice.
  6. Phil Mickelson, United States – The tournament host won the California desert event in 2002 and 2004, and has four other top-10 finishes after a tie for second last year. Lefty, whose 44th PGA Tour victory came last year at Pebble Beach, makes his 2020 debut after a tie for 28th in the WGC-HSBC Champions was his best result early this season.
  7. Abraham Ancer, Canada – Cooled off a bit with a tie for 38th in the Sony Open after going 3-1-1 in the Presidents Cup, tying for fourth in the WGC-HSBC Champions and tying for eighth at Mayakoba. Ancer is making his fourth start in the California desert event and tied for 18th last year, with a third-round 73 keeping him out of the top 10.
  8. Kevin Kisner, United States – Was in the chase most of the way last week in the Sony Open in Hawaii before finishing two strokes back in a tie for fourth, after tying for 14th a week earlier in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Kisner is making his seventh start in the California desert, but his best finish was only a tie for 25th three years ago.
  9. Matthew Wolff, United States – The native of Agoura Hills makes his first PGA Tour appearance in California this week after making a big splash on the circuit by winning the 3M Open last season as a rookie. Wolff posted the best of his three top-25 finishes in the new season by tying for 11th two weeks ago in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
  10. Sebastian Munoz, Colombia – His first PGA Tour victory in the Sanderson Farms, a solo third in the RSM Classic and a tie for seventh at the Greenbrier have Munoz sitting fourth in the early FedEx Cup standings. He tied for 17th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but is trying to bounce back from a missed cut in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Byeong Hun An, South Korea; Zach Johnson, United States; Adam Long, United States; Alex Noren, Sweden; Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela; Brendan Steele, United States; Russell Knox, Scotland; Cameron Champ, United States; Brendon Todd, United States.


  1. Henrik Norlander, Sweden – A two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, Norlander posted a T-9 in the Sony Open after he had a T-5 in the RSM Classic in his previous start.
  2. Tom Hoge, United States – A two-time winner on lower tours, Hoge finished T-12 in the Sony Open after opening the 2019-20 season by finishing second at the Greenbrier.
  3. 3. Aaron Wise, United States – Winner of the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson, Wise tied for third in the Bermuda Championship and will try to rebound from missed cut in the Sony.
  4. Max Homa, United States – Another two-time champ on Korn Ferry Tour, Homa won 2019 Wells Fargo as a rookie and recorded a T-25 two weeks ago his debut at Kapalua.
  5. Xinjun Zhang, China – A six-time winner as a pro, Zhang missed the cut in the Sony Open after posting a T-4 in Houston Open and a T-7 in Safeway Open earlier this season.

For first-round tee times, visit

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