As I pulled on my rain boots before driving to PGA West at 6 a.m., Friday, Jan. 20, a KMIR meteorologist on the TV screen was issuing a warning about the continuous and dangerous weather that would soon engulf the Coachella Valley.
However, the rain was late to arrive at the “U.S. politics-free zone” media center at PGA West’s Stadium Course. There were persistent showers as play began on Thursday, but for the most part, mixed clouds and sunshine on the first two days of play provided a beautiful and dramatic backdrop for some sterling play on the three La Quinta courses. In fact, as of the halfway point in play, the only party to suffer from the incessant forecasts of terrible weather was the resurgent 2017 PGA CareerBuilder Challenge Tournament itself: Spectators and fans had been scarce, and that’s not good news for the concessions and vendors who have seen very few customers.
The adventurous attendees who ignored the warnings were treated to a number of entertaining opportunities. It’s not often that a fan can enjoy an up-close-and-personal vantage point to watch perennial crowd favorite Phil Mickelson play. Normally surrounded by hundreds of fans wherever he goes, Mickelson teed off on Friday at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course in front of about two dozen spectators. This past offseason, he accepted the role of golfing ambassador for this tournament, and this week marks his first competitive rounds since his knee surgery. Much to the pleasure of his many supporters, he finished Day 2 tied for sixth place, just four shots off the lead.
In other news, some big-name baseball celebrities joined the amateur field this year. Multiple-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens is playing, as is slugger Joe Carter, best remembered for winning the 1993 World Series with a walk-off home run for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Local PGA favorite Brendan Steele from Idyllwild is here again. Already a winner at the Safeway Open in this PGA wrap-around season that’s just begun, Steele shot an 8-under-par 64 on Friday to put him just two shots back of leader, Hudson Swafford, who carded back-to-back 65s. Should Swafford hold on to win, it would give him his very first PGA victory. Last year’s winner, Jason Dufner, is back, too, along with many of the tour’s top players.
Just before play wound down on Friday, it began pouring. The good news is that Saturday’s weather was expected to be clear and dry. Alas, more rain is in the forecast for Sunday.