After a week of stormy and windy weather in the Coachella Valley, the 78 professional golfers participating in the Galleri Classic were able to enjoy warmer and softer breezes as the newest tournament on the PGA Tour Champions schedule, for players age 50 and up, got under way at the Mission Hills Country Club.
On Friday, March 24, many fans were focused on Fred Couples, commonly considered to be the most popular golfer on this tour, and the ongoing crusade of Germany’s Bernhard Langer to break the overall record of 45 career wins on Champions tour. (He currently shares the record with Hale Irwin, whose last win came in 2007.)
Most of the players confessed to never having played the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, and that unfamiliarity may have contributed to the first round ending with some less-familiar names topping the scoreboard. The leader going into round 2 on Saturday was David Toms at 7 under par. On his heels were Kevin Sutherland. who shot a 66, putting him one shot behind at 6 under. Six players were tied at 5 under: Richard Green, Padraig Harrington, Rocco Mediate, Rod Pampling, Brett Quigley and Vijay Singh. Couples was tied with four others at 4 under, while Langer was one shot further back at 3 under.
After the first round in this competition for a winner’s purse of $330,000, Toms, who has already won once this year, sized up the course, which was formerly the first annual major tournament test for LPGA players.
“The golf course is real nice,” Toms said. “You have to hit good tee shots. That’s the only way you’re going to be set up to score at all, is (to) try to keep the ball in the fairway as best you can. That’s even tough at times, because there’s a lot of slope out there. But my caddie used to work here years ago for a couple of years, and he’s pretty comfortable out here, and he’s helped me quite a bit on the golf course, just to kind of get used to it. I think most guys will say it’s a pretty special place.”
On Thursday’s pro-am day, Langer sat down with the media and talked about his frame of mind as the tourney approached.
“It’s great to be back,” Langer said. “I think my first time here was 1976, believe it or not, a very long time ago playing the World Cup. So I don’t remember a great deal about the golf course, but I was able to play it on Monday, and it’s phenomenal. It’s in really, really good shape, probably some of the best fairways and greens I’ve seen in quite a while. The rough is very consistent as well, and everything looks phenomenal.
“Once this rain is out of here, we should have an amazing weekend. I think the field is fantastic; you’ve got everybody here I think who has a name or has won majors or is a Hall of Famer or whatever on the Champions Tour. (It) should be a great competition.”
The PGA Tour Champions hasn’t held a tournament in the Coachella Valley since 1993, and Couples said he’s glad the seniors’ tour has made it back.
“I used to live at Mission Hills, so I know this course,” Couples said. “Thirty-two years ago with John Cook, we used to play a lot. But it’s a phenomenal tournament; everyone knows about the Dinah Shore. … I’ve heard the course is absolutely perfect and I’m so glad we got a sponsor. I think we as older (players) need to be playing here, and we are. I hope it lasts a long time.”
Toms, whose most recent win came three weeks ago at the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Ariz., talked about the challenge he perceives playing the final two rounds.
“I know there used to be even more trees—but there are quite a few trees out there,” Toms quipped. “They’ve got some rough, which we haven’t seen here lately on our tour. Even with good tee shots, you’re going to miss some fairways, because there’s so much slope.”
Back on Thursday, Langer summed up his hopes to win that historic 46th career tournament.
“It’s always special to win any event, but winning an inaugural event just proves that you can compete and do your best on a golf course that you haven’t really seen more than twice; that means maybe even more,” he said. “And winning against a very strong field always means more than just beating two or three guys. Here, you have to beat everybody.”