When Phil Mickelson announced he was not going to play in the Humana Challenge this January, there were naturally disappointed fans. But Humana officials, including tournament executive director Bob Marra, said they were sure they would be able to bring some big names, some who hadn’t played in the tournament in a few years, to the 2014 field.
The first glimpse of that came Thursday when Rickie Fowler announced on Twitter that he will actually start 2014 in the Humana event. Some skeptics might point out that Fowler is not ranked in the top 20 in the world (he’s 36th) and that he has just one more win on the PGA Tour than I do. But Fowler is young, recognizable because of his style, a Southern California product and one of the best young players in the game even without anything more than a Ryder Cup appearance in 2010 and a win in the Wells Fargo event in 2011. He is a rising star with tons of potential. He’s the kid of player who would win the Humana and no one would be surprised.
Marra was naturally pleased with the Fowler announcement, but he continues to promise that at the tournament’s media day on Wednesday there will be more big names. No hint on the names, but you can figure out what big names haven’t been to the event the last few years who would attract fans.
Why would some of these players head back to the desert? Marra and his team insist that some of it is the efforts the tournament have made in upgrading the tournament experience for players. That was a theme that started under Marra’s predecessor, Larry Thiel.
Some of it might just been that the changes in the tournament’s format. Four days instead of five and three courses instead of four is a pretty big change from the standpoint of the players.
And you can’t discount the idea that the PGA Tour, which would like to see a good field in a tournament with a good sponsor and former president as the unofficial host, might have contacted a player or two and said, you know, we’d really like to see you in La Quinta this year. The tour can’t force anyone to play anywhere, but they can let the players know that the strength of the Humana field is a priority to the tour.
Whatever the reason, Fowler gives the field another visible player in the top 50 in the OWGR. And we can imagine just what names will be added to that list Wednesday.