Tidbits from Wednesday at the Humana Challenge
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

The Shark

As you may have noticed — especially those whose jobs rely on Wikipedia (like mine) — there was an Internet blackout to protest SOPA. Now I’m horrified WUP even published anything on Wednesday, but so be it.

I spent the afternoon (weather couldn’t be more perfect, by the way, and I may have even gotten a little burnt) loitering scouring the range for intel, but I learned what you all care about pretty quickly: The Ruth’s Chris tent (which replaced In ‘N Out) is pretty darn good. I had my sliders (with “special sauce”) and chips — I know, isn’t there supposed to be an emphasis on “Health Matters”? Errrr….

Well, from all accounts, the Clinton Health Matters conference was a success, with featured golfers Notah Begay and Annika Sorenstam doing a fantastic job. Sounds like President Bill Clinton was charming, per usual.

Just a few notes on the event, along with some observations…

*72-hole (previously 90) event, 144 players, a record $5.6 million purse, with $1.008 million first-place check.

*Dustin Johnson, who had knee surgery in the off-season, decided to return to competition a week before expected. Though he’s insisting he feels fine, word on the range is DJ isn’t 100%, but he’s probably playing because he’s eager to get back at it. He hasn’t walked 18 holes since the surgery. On Wednesday he played off-site at the Madison Club.

*Phil Mickelson is making his first start of the season and returning to the desert for the first time since 2007. He didn’t conduct a pre-tourney presser. Rumor has it he was also playing at the Madison Club. Hmm…his usual Wednesday money game?

*Anthony Kim, a product of La Quinta High School (no, AK didn’t grow up on the streets of LA playing ‘ball), is making his first start in the desert since 2008. “I’m obviously very excited to be playing golf where I played my high school golf,” he said on Wednesday. “I feel very at home here and hopefully I can prove that with how I play this week.  I’m staying in my own bed and my parents are going to be out and that’s going to be a lot of fun to play in front of them.”

*Jamie Lovemark, who was supposed to be last year’s hotshot rookie, is coming back from back surgery. This will be his first start on the PGA Tour since withdrawing from the Shell Houston Open last April after posting an opening round 80. Because he made less than 10 starts in 2011, he’s still considered a rookie this season.

*My favorite scene at the range today: Watching the 6’4″ Jason Kokrak pounding drives (he led the Nationwide Tour at 318 yards in driving distance in 2011, thanks to Brian Gay for that stat) next to the 5’5″ (which is pushing it) Gavin Coles. It reminded me of Twins.

*I never thought I’d attend a Greg Norman presser at a PGA Tour event. That changed today. Norman was his usual gregarious self. He’s obviously playing this week because he got a call from President Clinton, but the Shark had a condition: “I’ll play, if you play with me on Saturday and if you play, I’ll play with you on Saturday.”

*Norman shared an amusing story about the first time he met President Clinton back in 1994. He got a call from the White House with an invitation to play with the President durning his first-trip to Australia. “I actually was very reluctant to do it because I’m a bit more pro-Republican than I am a Democrat, even though I’m not a U.S. citizen, I favor those beliefs,” recounted Norman. “So I called up President Bush, ’41 and said, ‘Mr. President I got a phone call from the White House and they would like me to play golf with the President in Australia and I’m not too sure I want to do that.  And he said, ‘Greg, I’m going to give you a piece of advice. Respect the office of the Presidency of the United States.  You go play with the President.  No matter how you feel.’”

*Norman and President Clinton organized to play at the New South Wales Golf Club. “We played 18 holes on our own, they closed the golf course down, and it was like two guys talking about life,” said Norman. “And that’s the way I’ve always approached the President.  I never have a fear of asking him a question that some people probably would have a fear of asking him a question.  So, he’s the same way with me.”

*What has been the common denominator between the two? “The fact that you can have a fireside chat without any fear or favor,” said Norman. “You can ask a question, ‘Hey, Mr. President, what’s the biggest mistake you ever made as President?  And people always ask me what’s the biggest mistake I ever played playing golf, right?  What’s the worst shot or what’s the biggest heartache you ever had or loss you’ve ever had?

“So I asked him the same question, because it’s interesting.  And he answered me very frankly and honestly.  I won’t tell you what it was, but we just pushed out that conversation and in real terms, like a fireside chat.  You think, ‘Wow, this is pretty impressive to hear some of the stuff that he’s saying.'”

*Despite their bond, Norman has never called President Clinton by his first name, “Bill.” Explained Norman: “President Bush ’41 said, ‘Respect the office of the Presidency of the United States.”

*”Celebrities” in the field: Tom Dreesen, Craig T. Nelson, Alice Cooper (obvs), Michael Bolton, Lucas Black, Julius Irving (Dr. J!), Morgan Freeman, Billy Crudup and Smokey Robinson. Of course, President Clinton is playing with Norman and Scott McCarron on Saturday.

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)