Shad Powers, Palm Springs Desert Sun
The 2019 installment of the desert's PGA Tour event will be one that will easily be remembered in hindsight.
Remember that year it was so foggy? Yeah, 2019.
Remember when Phil Mickelson almost went wire to wire? Yeah, 2019.
Remember that year it was called the Desert Classic? Yeah, 2019.
But I'm not going to wait around and recall this tournament wistfully. I'm looking back at it right now. Here are the 20 things, I'll remember most about the 2019 Desert Classic:
1. The final group in a three-way tie on the last hole. Can't do much better than that. Amazing gumption by Adam Long winning in his sixth PGA start. For context, it was Phil Mickelson's 596th. Side note: If you look up Adam Long in Wikipedia -- three Adam Longs come up and none of them are Adam Long the golfer.
2. Mickelson will probably consider this one that got away, but it was nice to have him in contention at the desert event for which he is an ambassador. A 1-over seven-hole stretch on Sunday did him in, and he had agonizing near-makes on 17 and 18. But Mickelson added a lot of drama -- and some gallery -- by simply being in the mix Sunday.
3. I don't know if they call bridesmaids something different in Canada, but Adam Hadwin has to be frustrated at this tournament. The last four years he's finished tied for sixth, second, tied for third and tied for second. And this was his best chance to win. He led by three early on the back nine, but finished the final holes in 1-over. Ouch.
4. Oh, that fog! I've lived in the desert for 17 years now and have never seen fog like that. As we looked at the driving range at PGA West, you couldn't see the markers indicating 200 yards out. Then it dissipated a little and we could see hints of the homes across the range. Then it thickened again. An hour delay to start the event was ominous.
5. Maybe it was my fault, but the round in which I followed local product Charlie Reiter, he struggled. He seemed to let his frustration get the best of him during Thursday's round. So I was happy to see him storm back, including his somewhat historic 63 at PGA West on Saturday. Great job regrouping, and let's hope you're back again next year. You earned it.
6. It is not hyperbole to say that on the first tee as the final group teed of Sunday, Canadian Adam Hadwin received a louder cheer from the gallery than Phil Mickelson. Don't sleep on the Canadian fan base of the desert.
7. Defending champion Jon Rahm made a nice run, but missed too many makeable putts on his back nine Sunday to really scare the leaders. He finished at 21-under and tied for sixth.
8. Flagsticks in. It was hard to get used to watching players putt with the flagstick in, but I enjoyed talking to golfer Aaron Wise about why he was trying out the new rule. He said it best: As the year goes on, either no one will do it, or everyone will if it's perceived to give an edge ...
9. ... Not Mickelson, though. He tried one putt with the flagstick in. He was scared to death that it would hit the flag and pop out, and said he'll never do it again.
10. Five players I learned about this week, that I'll be interested to follow moving forward: 1. Wyndham Clark, 2. Adam Long, 3. Abraham Ancer, 4. Talor Gooch, 5. J.T. Poston
11. Let's take a musical break. Another successful pair of concerts this year with Sammy Hagar on Friday and Bad Company on Saturday. They combined to have close to 20,000 spectators. The tournament's executive director Jeff Sanders has said he hopes to have three concerts next year, adding a Thursday show.
12. So what other bands (within reason) would you like to see at next year's event? My three-day lineup idea is Jimmy Buffett, Hall and Oates and KISS. Though I may be shooting too high. (Note: My actual lineup preference would be Hall and Oates, Hall and Oates, and Hall and Oates.)
13. The one guy missing from the star-studded leader board was World No. 1 Justin Rose. He was steady but not spectacular, shooting rounds of 68, 68, 68 and 70 to finish at 14-under. Hope he comes back next year.
14. Shoutout to Dylan Frittelli of South Africa. He was the only golfer to respond with a "like" when I tweeted out my PGA Tour Name Game column which used the names of 91 golfers to tell a story. Especially thankful because in it I said Frittelli was a hot breakfast dish.
15. Was that roar for golf or football? As the three co-leaders stood over their putts on 17, a roar came from the crowd as Adam Long was about to putt. The roar was for the Rams' game-winning field goal. Long had to step back and regroup before putting.
16. I really liked the feel of having all the Desert Classic signage around the course, with the palm trees and the like. It definitely felt more tied to our beloved little valley this year than during the Humana Challenge and CareerBuilder Challenge years. Here's hoping the new sponsor maintains those iconic desert images.
17. Super-talented young Korean player Sungjae Im was on the leader board Sunday and will be on a lot of PGA Tour leader boards for years to come. As I learned about him, I fell in love with the name of his hometown -- Jeju-Si, Jeju-Do South Korea.
18. Here's your bonkers statistic of the tournament. Steve Marino eagled a par-3, a par-4 and a par-5 this week. Hasn't happened in a tournament since 2011. But wait there's more ...
19. ... even bonkers-er. All of his eagles came on the seventh hole! He aced the par-3 seventh at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday. He eagled the par-5 seventh at Nicklaus Course on Friday and holed out from the fairway to eagle the par-4 seventh at the Stadium Course on Sunday.
20. Another tournament in the books. Once the fog cleared, wow! It's going to be hard to bea this year's event for drama, big names and unusual occurrences. But there's always 2020. See you then.
Dramatic finish: Rookie Adam Long drains birdie putt to edge Phil Mickelson for Desert Classic title
Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
You couldn't blame the gallery at the Desert Classic presented by Workday on Sunday if they thought of Adam Long as nothing more than the other guy in the final pairing with Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin.
Mickelson, a Hall of Famer and immensely popular player in the desert, and Hadwin, a Canadian with plenty of support from valley snowbirds, drew huge cheers throughout the day.
But in the end, it was Long, playing just his sixth PGA Tour event, who outdueled the two crowd favorites to win his first PGA Tour title.
Long, a 31-year-old rookie, rolled in a 13-foot birdie putt on the final hole to cap a brilliant 7-under 65 on the Stadium Course at PGA West. That put him at 26-under 262 for the tournament, one shot ahead of Mickelson and Hadwin. Mickelson burned the low edge of the cup on the 18th with a 39-foot birdie attempt, while Hadwin was only able to get up and down from a bunker behind the green to make his par.
"I mean, I had nothing to lose. I was just out there having fun trying to hit fairways and greens and give myself looks for birdie and watching those guys," Long said. "It's fun to watch Phil play. I never have seen it up close like that, and it's a different game than mine, by a long stretch. But (I) just tried to focus on what I had to do and just was fortunate to make that putt there at the end."
Long's win was stunning not only because it was just his sixth start on the PGA Tour and fifth start in the 2018-19 year, but because he had missed the cut in his previous three events this season and finished tied for 63rd in the Safeway Open in his only other start this year.
Mickelson, a two-time winner in the desert, stumbled to a final-round 69 but caught Hadwin and Long with a birdie on the 16th hole. Hadwin finished with a 67 but played the final seven holes in six pars and one bogey. It was Hadwin's fourth straight year in the top six in the tournament and second time as the runner-up.
Long, who has two rounds of 63 during the week at La Quinta Country Club and the Nicklaus Tournament Course, made an early statement with birdies on the first two holes. He added a birdie on the ninth hole, but was still just 22-under, behind Hadwin at 25 under and Mickelson at 23 under.
Mickelson had started his day with a three-putt bogey on the first hole and he never improved much on the greens.
"I had a terrible putting day, one of the worst I can recall in a while," Mickelson said. "Started right on the first hole with a little 4-footer uphill and 3-putting that green there.
"And I missed a bunch of short ones on the front and some birdie opportunities, but it felt awful with the putter," Mickelson said. "I hit a lot of good shots today though but just couldn't get the ball to go in the hole."
Hadwin, looking for the breakthrough desert win, was flawless for 11 holes, with six birdies to take a three-shot lead over Mickelson at 26-under par. But Hadwin's game started to fray a bit, with the Canadian star missing a birdie putt on the 12th, missing the green on the way to a bogey at the 13th and missing another birdie chance on the 15th. It was another heartbreaking loss for Hadwin and the large Canadian population in the desert that pledges its loyalty to him from the first tee shot.
"It's like playing back in Canada, to be honest with you. Canadian Open, there's always that added pressure," Hadwin said. "You want to win in front of them. It would have been a special moment if I could have pulled it off but there's always next year, I guess."
Long made birdies on the 12th, 14th and 15th to tie Hadwin at 25 under. But Hadwin and Long both flubbed chips on the par-5 16th, perhaps the only time during the week Long look like he was playing in his sixth PGA Tour event. Hadwin and Long made pars while Mickelson missed a 15-foot eagle putt that would have given him the lead outright.
When the trio parred the 18th hole, it set up the drama of the closing hole. Long missedthe fairway but recovered with a strong approach. Mickelson hit the fairway put couldn't get his iron close to the pin in the back of the green. Hadwin bounced through the green and into the bunker.
When Long's putt went in the hole, ther cheers from the gallery that have been for Mickelson and Hadwin before now belong the Duke University graduate.
"It's pretty exciting. I mean I was, I wasn't even in the field for next week in San Diego, I was an alternate," Long said. "So we'll take it one week at a time, but, yeah, it's exciting and changes I want to say my life. But it changes my career for sure."
Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
January in La Quinta. April in Madrid. September in Paris. December in the Bahamas.
The life of a jet-setting playboy? The agenda for a hard-driving corporate CEO?
In reality, it’s Jon Rahm, one of golf’s fastest-rising stars, living his dream of being a global golfer.
Rahm’s three individual wins and his contributions to the victory by the European Ryder Cup team took the 24-year-old star to virtually every point on the compass in 2018, a winning journey that started in La Quinta at the Desert Classic.
“I've always wanted to be a global player,” said Rahm, who defends his Desert Classic title this week. “So I just feel like when I play the PGA Tour and then I go to Europe, it's kind of like a fresh start because it's a little different golf courses, different people, different type of golf in general. It's like hitting the reset button to the mind on the golf game.”
Not every golfer tries to juggle the demands of playing full-time schedules on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour. Of those who try, few have been as successful at it as Rahm.
In consecutive years, Rahm has won three individual events around the world, at least one on each of the tours each year. Toss in fourth-place finishes at the Masters and the PGA Championship, and It’s understandable how at just 24 Rahm is already a fixture in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings.
If Rahm’s rise in the golf world has been rapid, it has not been surprising for those who have paid attention to the Spanish star over the last five or six years. The No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings for a record 60 weeks, Rahm was a star at Arizona State under coach Tim Mickelson, who is now the caddie for his brother, Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson. Rahm’s time at Arizona State not only gave him a love for the American Southwest, but also a professional foundation through the Mickelson brothers.
“When I went on tour, being a Sun Devil alone and the relationship I had with Tim, (and) Phil and I played quite a bit together,” Rahm said. “So he kind of -- he really turned into my mentor, whether he wanted to or not. I guess that's what I was trying to do. He turned into a mentor and a friend, and we played a lot of practice rounds together. I tried to learn as much as possible from him.
“Knowing Phil, how he is, 25 years of experience, how much he studies every golf course, how much he studies the game of golf, there's a lot of things to learn from somebody like him, right, so I tried to play with him and soak up as much information as I can,” Rahm added.
Rahm turned pro in 2016, won the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego in January of 2017, won twice that year on the European Tour including the DP World Tour Championship, then won again at the Desert Classic in January 2018 in a four-hole playoff over Andrew Landry.
Rahm later won his home Open, the Open de Espana, in April, then beat Tiger Woods in singles in the Ryder Cup in September and capped 2018 with a win in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December, a tournament hosted by Woods. It is that singles win over Woods as part of Europe’s 17½-10½ win over the United States that stands out for Rahm.
“As a golfer, any time you get to play with your idol, or one of your idols, it's a great feeling, something that everybody looks forward to,” Rahm said. “But to get to do it on the Sunday of Ryder Cup, even though we had a big lead early on the Sunday, to actually win the first full point for Europe and see how everything turned around, I've got to say that's got to be -- I mean, that is the best golfing experience I've had in my life, and it's going to be hard to better it.”
Getting better, or at least continuing his trend upward in the golf world, begins for Rahm with the West Coast swing of the PGA Tour this year. That includes his title defense of the Desert Classic in the Coachella Valley in an area he loves and on courses he played when he was still at Arizona State.
Rahm was a part of the Sun Devil teams that played in the Prestige at PGA West college tournament, played one year at the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, now a Desert Classic course. Rahm also has a sponsorship relationship with Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, sporting the Bighorn logo on his bag around the world.
“Obviously, it's an event that I really want to win again. It was really important to me because it's not only a great event with a lot of history, with a legacy of a lot of great players, but it's one of those courses -- the Nicklaus course at PGA West is one of them that I played quite a few times as an amateur, an amateur event in Palm Springs every year,” Rahm said. “We stayed at La Quinta and we actually had a great time. It's world-class golf courses, a world-class venue that, like (2017 Desert Classic winner Hudson) Swafford said, the greens on those golf courses are probably the best all year, comparable to Augusta National.”
Rahm’s 2018 Desert Classic victory started with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club, and he was never far from the lead after that. He followed with a round of 67 at the Nicklaus Tournament Course then rounds of 70 and 67 at the Stadium Course, putting him in a playoff with Landry, who shot 68 on the final day. The playoff lasted four holes before Rahm claimed the title.
“There's nothing really bad to say about this event. Crowds are amazing, the atmosphere on 16, 17, 18 is great,” Rahm said. “I really hope I don't have to play 18 four more times this year. Hopefully, I can get it done before. It really is a great venue, and hopefully I can have as much fun as I did last year.”
“We had one of the more memorable conclusions in this event's history,” Pat McCabe, tournament director for the Desert Classic, said of Rahm’s playoff win. “Jon Rahm outlasted Andrew Landry, sinking a birdie putt on the fourth extra hole, and we're also thankful that he did, because we didn't want to come back the next day to keep going. I believe they didn't have a whole lot of light left.”
The Desert Classic will be part of a busy early season for Rahm on the PGA Tour, which started with the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago and will include the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It will then be a season of back and forth between the PGA Tour and key events Rahm wants to play in Europe. But he’ll have to work all of those around a wedding date. Rahm announced last August that he and girlfriend Kelley Cahill are engaged, with the wedding coming sometime this year.
For now, Rahm is concentrating on trying to keep up the global nature of his game and the victory pace of the last two years.
“Two years in a row on tour that I've won three times worldwide, so if I can accomplish that again, it will be obviously a huge year,” Rahm said. “Winning (on) both tours again would be something amazing. First thing in mind is to defend my title in Palm Springs. That's the next thing I've got to do.”
Five things to know about Jon Rahm:
1. Rahm is only the sixth Spanish player to win the Open de Espana on the European Tour and the first to win in since 2014. Seve Ballesteros is the only Spanish player to win the national Open twice.
2. Rahm's 11 individual victories while playing at Arizona State are second in school history behind only the 16 wins by Phil Mickelson.
3. In 2010, Rahm showed he was a potential star in the game by winning the Spanish Junior Boys Championship.
4. In 2016, Rahm tied for 23rd in the U.S. Open at Oakmont Golf Course in Pennsylvania, making him the low amateur for the event.
5. Rahm and his fiancée, Kelly Cahill, met while both were attending Arizona State. Cahill was an athlete as well, throwing the javelin for the Sun Devils.