How many times have you heard someone say this:
“I always wanted to play Pebble.”
If they lived elsewhere, they no doubt were lured by the beauty of a February afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula while they were shivering in wintry misery.
But Pebble Beach has been even more magnificent during the five times it has hosted the U.S. Open, starting in 1972.
Yes, 1972. The year that Jack Nicklaus – the year with Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer in contention – hit his famous 1-iron on the 17th hole, which cut through the gale-force wind, hit the pin on a bounce and stopped inches from the cup.
It’s hard to believe that Pebble Beach had been open since 1919, but it wasn’t until then that it was deemed appropriate for the national championship.
The 17th also produced the most drama 10 years later when Tom Watson chipped in from the rough next to the green to defeat Nicklaus by two strokes in their memorable duel.
The wind again was the real winner in 1992 as Tom Kite survived to win, also by two shots.
And no one will ever forget Tiger Woods’ performance in 2000, when he won by a record 15 shots with his score of 12 under par. Things were back to normal in 2010 as Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland won by a single shot.
But here’s what you notice most of all about having the Open at Pebble: Except for Woods’ other-worldly weekend 19 years ago, the winning score has been between 2 over par and 6 under.
That’s right – Nicklaus was 2-over when he won in 1972, McDowell was even par and Watson and Kite both were 6-under.
We don’t think of Pebble as that hard because we watch the pros tear it up, along with Spyglass Hill (to a lesser degree) and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, every year in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The winning AT&T score has been double digits below par every year since 1995, and the last five champions have been at minus-22, minus-17, minus-19, minus-17 and minus-19.
Those of us lucky enough to have played Pebble tend to agree that, while it’s a great track, it’s not as brutal as Spyglass. The consensus is that you can score on the first seven holes at Pebble before you get tested by Nos. 8 through 10 along the ocean, then get a bit of a breather coming in until you reach the famed 17th (if the tee is back) and 18th.
But we also know that the USGA, in its annually reviled quest to make the Open venue as challenging as possible, will have the rough at Pebble growing out of control, and the possibility of a three-club wind is always there when the tournament is held along the ocean. So get ready for another year of soaring scores and complaints.
In fact, they’re complaining already. Check out this video of Phil Mickelson talking about how the USGA handles things. I don’t like his chances of getting any rain at Pebble in the next two weeks.
But no one can complain about the venue itself. Of all the magical spots for major events, there’s nothing quite like these words:
The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Get ready for another Father’s Day weekend of golf memories.
Get ready for another reason why golf is our great game.
Get ready for Pebble. And here’s the best part of all: After you watch it, you can play it.