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LA QUINTA, Calif. — The 2022 version of the PGA Tour’s American Express is in the books, and it was another entertaining entry.
Of course, the golf delivered drama, but that wasn’t the only reason to enjoy the four-day event.
Here are the 20 things that caught my fancy as I cruised around the three courses throughout the four-day tournament, from eagles, egrets, to head covers to 400-yard drives.
1. The perfect eagle. Hudson Swafford hit a 342-yard drive in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 16th at the Stadium Course at PGA West. He then hit a 198-yard approach shot to about 8-feet, 1-inch, and then sank the putt. That’s how you win a tournament. Love when someone goes out and grabs the win, as opposed to holding on for dear life.
2. Kudos to the chasers Tom Hoge and Lee Hodges. Neither had won a PGA Tournament before, but while others fell by the wayside, they finished second and third, recording their biggest paydays.
3. The story of golfer T.J. Vogel fascinated me. He teed off here on Thursday at 10:30 a.m., just 20 hours after sinking his final putt Wednesday in a Korn Ferry Tour event in the Bahamas. The dedication of the golfers scratching and clawing to make the tour is inspiring.
4. Tournament host Phil Mickelson was noticeably absent this week. No pre-tournament press conference. No post-match media after any of his three rounds. Not on hand for trophy presentation. Sure, he didn’t play well, but I’m not sure what to make of it. Just an observation.
5. “We can come back and see the ducks, hold on for a minute,” Hudson Swafford said after his son James whispered something in his ear after hugging him behind the 18th green after securing his win. Swafford had to sign his $1,368,000 scorecard first.
6. I agree with James Swafford entirely. You know how The Masters pumps in bird sounds to make it seem more idyllic than it actually is. There were so many beautiful shorebirds (as Swafford’s son James mentioned) and I guess regular tree birds at The American Express that it felt like they had some transferred in from a nearby sanctuary. Some beautiful peripheral viewing.
7. Enjoyed the Maroon 5 concert. I thought I knew two of their songs, but turns out I know about 13 of them. They are one of those bands for me, where every song was like “Oh, this is them? I like this one.” Adam Levine’s voice penetrated the wind nicely and the crowd, while large was spaced apart. Good choice.
8. Full disclosure, I did not see Brad Paisley on Saturday, choosing instead to go home and rest. Also I have already seen Paisley headline Stagecoach, but I’m realizing now that was 10 years ago. Wow!
9. It was great to have the gallery back, and it was a large crowd lining the 18th for Swafford’s win. There were a lot of small touches with the fans in mind. For example, the first-hole announcers would say, “Welcome to The American Express golf tournament. We’re glad to have you back.”
10. Patrick Cantlay was on fire early in this event but ran out of kindling quickly. He was 10-under after 18 holes and then only 4-under for the next 36. He finished in the top 10 but was never in contention on Sunday.
11. The quiet storm Si Woo Kim, the 2021 champ, rode consistent play with his usual Sunday surge on the Stadium Course to come close to becoming only the second repeat winner of this event. A water ball on the 17th dashed his hopes as he finished tied for 11th with his steady 68, 68. 69, 67.
12. Harold Varner III had a good week at The American Express, which means so too did Gerald Varner. Who is Gerald Varner? That’s Harold’s headcover, which looks like a Muppet version of him.
13. The Good Sport Award goes to my new favorite player James Hart du Preez. Notable for his extremely long drives and 6-foot-9 frame, a fan asked if she could take a picture with him as he approached the first tee to begin his Saturday round. He obliged and took a funny photo standing next to the 4-foot-11 woman. He then took it a step further and got on his knees for another photo with her, now around the same height. It made her day, and I don’t think many other golfers would’ve been so kind one minute before starting their round.
14. Oh by the way, du Preez hit a 407-yard drive on the 5th hole on the Stadium Course on Thursday and a 406-yard drive on the 9th hole. The next longest drive by a pro on any course on that day was 346 yards by Cameron Champ.
15. Followed world No. 1 Jon Rahm around for his entire 6-under 66 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday. It was impressive how easy he made the game look. Drive in the fairway. Hit the green in regulation. Two-putt or an occasional one-putt. Six birdies no bogeys. No sweat, and he wasn’t that happy about his round. Must be nice to be that good.
16. My favorite fan hat of the tournament was a pair of fans who wore a white baseball cap with the word “Spectator” on them. They told me it was an inside joke, but wouldn’t divulge the secret, which I guess is what makes it an inside joke.
17. Some disappointing efforts by big-name players this week. Tony Finau just made the cut on the number. Rickie Fowler and Mickelson playing together struggled all week. Patrick Reed made the cut but was never in contention.
18. Three cheers to the new traffic flow gameplan for leaving PGA West after the concerts. What took me three-and-a-half hours during the debacle of 2020 took only 30 minutes (29 to be exact). I liked that much better.
19. Big day for Georgia grads with almost the same name. In golf it was 34-year-old Swafford with The American Express win. In football it was 33-year-old Matthew Stafford with an NFL playoff win. It’s been a good year for Georgia sports overall, I suppose.
20. Cameron Young and Will Zalatoris were both on the leader board entering the final round. That’s exciting for alphabet fans in that Young is the only current PGA Tour player whose name begins with a Y and Zalatoris is the only current PGA Tour player whose name begins with a Z.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com.