The U.S. Open At Pebble Beach

With the U.S. Open returning to Pebble Beach this week it occurs to me that few places in American golf evoke as much memory and familiarity as this place. Because of the Majors it has hosted as well as the annual tour event in February, an Open at Pebble is second only to The Masters at Augusta in terms of anticipated drama and can’t miss TV for the true golf fan.

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We know the place, we remember the holes, we recall the glorious things that have happened there. Nicklaus’s 1-iron into 17 in 1972, Watson’s chip-in on the same hole in ’82, Kite’s 1992 mastery of the gale force winds, Tiger’s complete domination of the field winning by a thousand in 2000, and McDowell sprint by one of the dominant players of our time in 2010 are all indelibly marked in our golf psyches.

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It is interesting to look back over the winners of the A T & T tour event since 2005 for some hint to who might end up in the mix this time around. Mickelson has won it four times over the last 15 years, including this past February. With the only thing standing between Mickey and the career slam you gotta think this may be his last and best chance to fulfill that dream. Dustin Johnson owns the place-winning in 2009 and 2010, second in 2014, and we know about his near miss in the 2010 Open losing to Graeme McDowell. Brandt Snedeker has won A T & T twice in a three-year span from 2013 to 2015. Jordan Speith won it in 2017 and we know what his record in Majors is all about.

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It may be well founded to consider the difference of playing Pebble in June as opposed to February in handicapping the field. Beside the obvious pressure difference between playing a celebrity pro-am and a Major championship, I think advantage goes to the guys who can stay out of the seasonal lush greenside rough and who are comfortable putting on bumpy poa annua greens with a bit more pace in them this time of year.

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Pebble has extremely small green complexes and for anyone who cannot keep the tee ball between the hash marks the lack of control on approach shots out of the rough is going to mean lots of green-in-regulation misses. Recovery pitches from thick, long, and wiry rough are going to be extremely challenging to get up and down to avoid dropped shots.

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Poa annua greens are notorious for getting bumpy, especially late in the day when the grass growth kicks in. A TV commentator once pointed out that the great putters on tour don’t need perfect greens to putt well, their putting confidence is so high they think they can make 20 footers across cow pastures. Just remember Jordan’s performance on those awful, patchy things they called greens at Chambers Bay. Sneds, Jordan, Phil, and the old Tiger all come to mind as guys who may see the Poa greens as giving them an advantage over the legions of good putters out there.

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Wind is always the wild card at Pebble and when it begins to puff the skill set of those who can manage trajectory or simply hit through the wind will separate them from many of the wannabe Major contenders. Foreigners like Tommy Fleetwood, Francesca Molinari, Jason Day, and Louis Oosthuizen who have grown up playing in tough windy conditions will find Pebble to their liking if the wind gusts get over 20 miles-an-hour.

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Emotionally managing a sense of history will be very important if one is to win at Pebble Beach. Much like Amen Corner at Augusta these players know what has gone on before at the challenging quadrangle of holes in the middle of this course. The devilish steep downhill pitch into the short par three 7th, followed by restraint and acumen required on the postcard par four eighth, and then two rough and tumbling long seaside par fours at nine and ten will likely derail a good number of contenders on Saturday and Sunday. The guys who can visualize success in this crucial stretch will have the best chance of etching their names on a prestigious U.S. Open trophy associated with this iconic venue.

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I guess what I am saying is it seems very likely that a marquee player like Koepka, DJ, Rory, Phil, or Jordan wins out at the end of the day on Sunday. But maybe, just maybe it is a lesser known guy like Sneds or Fleetwood who is riding a hot putter and is not afraid of the moment or this particular stage for all of it’s notoriety, who finally gets the monkey off his back of “best player never to win a Major”. It happened for Tom Kite and Graeme McDowell at Pebble so it just might happen once again.

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Any way you look at it this is going to be a fun weekend of Prime Time TV viewing at a very recognizable venue…..the cum ratings should be off the chart.

June, 2019

2 thoughts on “The U.S. Open At Pebble Beach

  1. Dear Moe,

    Another made-me-think post. It was a great tournament, but being a Kansan, I was rooting for Woodland. Even my wife (a KU grad) and my youngest daughter (a KU basketball nut) watched the last nine holes with me.

    Best,

    Allan

    Allan Stark

    5600 Mission Rd.

    Fairway, KS 66205

    M: 913-961-3351

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