Last year at this time, the economic uncertainty gripping the nation led to an interesting phenomenon at one of the year's seminal pro-am golf tournaments: Corporate America turned its back on the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.
I asked about this last year to some of the regulars and the message was clear: spending a week on the links is the wrong message to be sending right now, whether there's a charitable component involved or not.
What a difference a year makes.
Sure, crowd favorites will continue to be Bill Murray and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, along with George Lopez and Kenny G.
But the heavy representation of corporate titans might be another clear sign that the economy is turning around.
A quick glance at this year's pairings yields an impressive cross-section of some of the top execs in the country.
Here's a sampling; handicaps are in parentheses:
Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy (3) just sold his company to Oracle for $7.4 billion. He's here, playing with Jay Williamson. AT&T's Randall Stephenson (15), Mike Armstrong (13), Robert Allen (14) and Dave Dorman (7) are all here. Comcast's Brian Roberts (8) is here too, and I have never seen a more powerful, elegant swing. (Well, he's gonna be my boss some day, what do you expect?!)
Venture capitalist Geoff Yang (6) and investment banker Frank Quattrone (10) are both here, as is George Roberts (4), the "R" in KKR, Charles Schwab (8) and Pimco's Bill Gross (12). Same with Endeavor/William Morris super-agent Ari Emanuel (6) (think HBO's "Entourage"). Newspaper publishing magnate Tony Ridder (13), San Jose Sharks President Greg Jamison (11), Yahoo's Jerry Yang (11), venture capitalist Tom Jermoluk (9) and General Motors' Ed Whitacre (10) and SyBase's John Chen (14) are all playing as well.
Phil Mickelson, cheating scandal aside (which is almost laughable in my humble opinion), is still the likely favorite to win the week. But I'm guessing CNBC's Joe Kernen (12), a helluva a long-ball hitter with just the right touch on his short game, will likely be chatting up potential Squawk Box guest hosts, rather than focusing on why Tiger didn't make it. (He's expected to return to Pebble for the US Open later this year. We'll see.)
In the meantime, the stars continue to shine bright once again at this marquee tournament along the exquisite California coast. And it looks like there's a pretty good chance the weather will even cooperate. But the deeper message is that the economic storm clouds are beginning to part, and corporate America's return here certainly signals brighter days ahead.
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