Friday, September 23, 2011

Some like it hot: Am Tour national champ. ready for desert rumble

By Jason Sobel
September 23, 2011 5:52 PM ET

”Man it's hot. It's like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot.” –Eugene Morris Jerome in the film “Biloxi Blues.”

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – First impression of this desert town while walking out of the airport en route to this week's Golf Channel Amateur Tour national championship: Hmm, it's kinda warm here.

Second impression: Forget warm, this place is downright toasty.

Third impression: OK, so when does that little red fellow with the horns and a pitchfork come tell us about all the bad stuff we did to deserve being here?

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The 1,029 amateur competitors who are scheduled to take part in the festivities – those in the senior division have already finished; the open division begins on Saturday – achieved some very good stuff on the way to qualifying for this event.

With 60 local chapters throughout North America, the national championship features the best of the best in six separate flights. Contestants hail from 42 different U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico and Canada.

It’s an eclectic group, too, ranging in ages from 12 to 79. Yes, that’s right – 12. Perhaps the only thing more amazing than pre-teen Charlie Reiter of Palm Desert, Calif., competing in this tournament is the fact that he also owns one national title here.

Two years ago. When he was 10.

Eat your hearts out, Matteo Manassero and Lexi Thompson.

Including Reiter, 26 past champions are returning to this year’s championship, with seven competitors attempting to defend their titles.

Of course, Palm Springs is a home away from home for many famous people – and this event isn’t without its share of stars, either. Three-time Olympic figure skater Todd Eldredge and former Major League Baseball pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Mark Mulder will be competing this week, showcasing athletic talents of another kind.

“I’m excited to play in the national championships for the first time, which is going to feel like a PGA Tour event,” Mulder said.  “Having to play well for four consecutive days is something that is not easy, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Speaking of the PGA Tour, the tourney will essentially mirror that of the long-running Humana Challenge – formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic – with a three-course rotation in the desert, its home base at the La Quinta Resort.

It will indeed be tough conditions for those who can’t take the heat. Literally.

Although there’s good news for players who regularly shoot in the 90s – and I’m not talking about their scores.

As the nice woman in the pro shop at PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course confided Friday morning, “Oh, you're lucky. It's going to cool off for you guys. Shouldn't get above 98 the next few days.”

Oh, yeah. Just a little warm.

As I walked away, she called out, “You might need a jacket,” as she proffered a sinister little laugh.

You might even say it was devilish.

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