Bill Clinton stamps his imprint on Humana Challenge

Bill Clinton plays with Greg Norman in Saturday's third round of the Humana Challenge (Photo: PGATour.com)

If Bill Clinton ever tires of having the best job in the world, he might want to consider running for office.

The avid golfer and uber-popular former denizen of the Oval Office, who teed it up Saturday as Greg Norman’s amateur partner in the third round of the Humana Challenge, has charmed players, wives, celebrities, fans, and media types all week in his dual roles as savior of the tournament formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic and one-man PR machine for healthy living.

The PGA Tour announced last April that it had inked an eight-year deal with new title sponsor Humana and the William J. Clinton Foundation to honor Hope with a new backer, name, format, and focus on healthy lifestyle practices. The 65-year-old 42nd president, who has shed 25 pounds and become a vegetarian after undergoing heart surgery, has done far more than lend his name and throw some of his Clinton Foundation money at the event. Clinton has hosted a full-day health summit highlighting his long-term commitment to building the tournament and improving Americans’ health, chatted up participants and spectators, and created so much buzz with his charismatic accessibility that observers believe some of golf’s bigger names may be sorry they chose to stay away.

“I think the players aren’t here this week, through word of mouth, are going to think that they missed a really cool event,” Golf Digest’s Ron Sirak told The Golf Club Radio Show’s Danielle Tucker Saturday after Clinton spent Thursday walking the range and shaking the hands of each player and caddie.

“It’s going to be word of mouth that spreads next week at the Torrey Pines [Farmers Insurance Open] tournament, players who were here are going to be talking to players who weren’t here about the event,” Sirak said. “Players who weren’t here are going to overhear discussions among players who were here about, ‘wow, it was really cool on Thursday night at the party when the president came over.'”

Second-round co-leader Ben Crane was likely to be one of those golfers spreading the word after Clinton expressed such interest in an organization near and dear to him and his wife. Heather Crane, a board member of Love 146, which works on eliminating child sex trafficking, thanked Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for their concern for the issue.

“[Heather] really appreciates [the Clinton] family’s work on sex trafficking,” Crane told reporters after firing a 9-under on Friday at PGA West.”That was really fun to engage with him on that. And that was something that my wife and I are very passionate about helping the kids out and growing the awareness.”

Meanwhile, it was slow going out on the course for the former president and his playing partner. After Clinton almost drilled a few fans — who were following the president’s foursome in droves — with shanks on the second hole at Palmer Course at PGA West, according to reports, he and Norman had made it through nine holes in almost three hours. Good thing Luke Donald, who’s not too fond of slow play on tour, was nowhere to be seen.

As for tourney leader, Mark Wilson, he got off to a sizzling par, birdie, birdie, eagle start at La Quinta Country Club to get to 21-under through 15 holes that came to a screeching halt when officials suspended play because of strong winds at La Quinta. But the two-time 2011 winner held a slight lead over Crane, who made back-to-back birdies on La Quinta’s fifth and sixth and was at three shots back through 12.

Meanwhile, Robert Garrigus had his tiny putter working overtime as he was working on the day’s low round. Garrigus was 9-under through 13 at PGA West and had climbed into a tie for third place at 16-under.

 

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