PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA | The moments just north of dawn at Pebble Beach are the most spiritual. You have the course to yourself, not to be disturbed by the superintendent’s crew manicuring the greens or the smattering of volunteers about to begin their day serving others.
The newborn sunrise over Monterey Bay and the still quiet of the early morning cast this enchanted links in a soft, heavenly light. Pebble Beach in this calm, warm glow is one of the best spots in the world, regardless whether you play our confounding game. It is a perfect time and place to simply be.
A couple of hours later, the place will be lousy with people and even that doesn’t spoil the view. Who in the world would not want to be here?
Some of the world’s best professional golfers, that’s who. Many of them believe that the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has outlived its usefulness and, therefore, will not be included on the schedules of most of the top 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
They complain – imagine pro golfers complaining – that the rounds take six hours to play and it’s a hassle to bounce from course to course and it’s a nuisance to have to play with amateurs for three days, much less find it necessary to talk to them anytime after the first tee shot of the day.
This is serious business, they claim, playing a game for first prizes upward of $1 million. And they don’t need the likes of Bill Murray and Ray Romano cutting into their checks by actually interacting with the gallery, heaven forbid, and disturbing their precious concentration.
But the sports psychologists point out that you concentrate for 30 seconds per shot for 70 shots and that’s 35 minutes of grinding. You’ve got to do something with the other five-and-a-half hours and communing with Pebble Beach and actually saying something encouraging to your amateur partner is apparently too much to ask.
Whether the world’s best play here, there is still a place for the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour schedule. It’s February, not April. We’re not playing The Masters just yet, and in the meantime, how about a little useful fun along with the stunning beauty shots that you get on half the holes at Pebble?
Besides, without the amateurs, the Tour pros still take more than five hours to play – in threesomes. If it’s going to take another hour, why not Pebble or even Spyglass Hill – one of the most underrated courses in America – and quaint Monterey Peninsula Country Club. And while they’re in town, it’s a dead cinch that they could get an invite to the Cypress Point Club, which used to be on the tournament rota before its membership thought the better of it.
D.A. Points played Cypress with Murray, his amateur partner at Pebble, and they did so like tourists in the late afternoon with a couple of the women members, if you can imagine a Tour player actually doing that.
Points made it a point to ask to play with Murray in the pro-am and he was on the top of the leaderboard much of the first three days before falling a couple of spots on Saturday afternoon. Romano was paired with Tommy Gainey, the people’s hero two weeks ago in Phoenix, and those two must have needed an interpreter to engage in conversation, much less the mutual culture shock. Either could be a “Haney Project,” and if you didn’t know better, you’d be hard pressed to choose which.
People who watch from snow-covered Iowa or who buy tickets to the event are in front of the television or on the premises not to watch championship golf. They like this event because of the pros, celebrities and the stunning landscapes. For those who want serious, Pebble Beach hosts the U.S. Open every 10 years or so. The time in between is strictly meant for a few good laughs.
It was pointed out that there were about 30 CEOs in the amateur field at Pebble and many of them head up firms that not only pay for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but pay for the PGA Tour, period. In the current economic climate, wouldn’t it seem to be prudent to make the heads of commerce feel good about the money they are investing in the players’ livelihoods?
Except that an alarming number of PGA Tour players wouldn’t walk across the street without being paid, and they always want whatever is free so they don’t have to, God forbid, come off the hip and actually pay for something. With that as the prevailing wind, being nice to amateur partners doesn’t seem to come naturally.
The players who do bother to show up, engage with the ams and make them feel important are the Tour’s finest citizens and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am is such a success largely because of them. They are the reason that Pebble Beach is still relevant and deserves better treatment from the upper echelon.
While the top three players in golf were half a world away, collecting ginormous appearance fees, the rest of golf was feeling darn good about itself. They have no idea what they really missed. No idea.