The former Bob Hope Classic, a tournament rumoured to be on the PGA Tour’s chopping block for years, secured its future with American Express signing a multi-season sponsorship deal earlier this year. Now the event has added some pizzazz, and energy, to the proceedings.
The tournament, now called “the American Express”, has announced that Phil Mickelson will serve as official host starting in 2020.
Mickelson, 49, has acted as an ambassador for the event the past three years, but this new role will take him from behind-the-scenes work to centre stage. He has won the tournament twice and finished runner-up at last year’s Desert Classic, and owns a house in the Madison Club in La Quinta.
“It’s always been an important part of my life. I would come out here and play junior tournaments here,” Mickelson told the Desert Sun. “I’ve always been passionate about here, and I love the tournament itself. But more than that, this tournament has meant historically a lot to this area, and I want to bring back the vision of Bob Hope.”
The American Express will feature 156 PGA Tour pros and 156 amateurs playing at three courses in La Quinta, and boast a $US6.7 million purse, an increase of $800,000 from last year. The tournament has struggled with its depth the past few seasons, which will be one of Mickelson’s top priorities to tackle in 2020.
“My role has been get the message out on why and how this tournament is the best place to start the year because we have perfect weather, which is why the courses are by the mountain,” Mickelson said to the Desert Sun. “So we don’t have wind, so that we give the players a chance to build a foundation for the upcoming year.
“The second key element is making the tournament and the amateurs here (be) the CEOs that are decision-makers in the game of golf, that support the game of golf. If you don’t have relationships with Corporate America (the pro-am), it gives you a chance to formulate relationships. If you do, it gives you a chance to strengthen them. Because we will allow players to play with their partners.”
Mickelson will be searching for a personal shot of vitality as well. He missed seven cuts in his final 14 starts in the 2018-2019 season with a lone top-40 finish, and the autumn slate wasn’t much better, a T-28 at the limited-field WGC–HSBC Champions his best showing. His remarkable 26-year streak of ranking inside the world’s top-50 came to an end earlier this month. Mickelson is hoping a new diet and workout regimen will snap his slump as he enters his Age 50 season on tour.
The 2020 American Express begins on January 16. Adam Long is the defending champion.