It’s just past seven in the morning as my two buddies and I head down 17-mile drive toward Pebble Beach. In just a few moments we’ll hear waves crash along the rocks, watch sea lions frolic in the shallow coves, and—if we’re lucky—see mammoth blue whales a thousand feet offshore.
The turn into Pebble Beach Lodge reminds us that we’re actually headed to a golf tournament, and, of course, it’s the 2010 U.S. Open Golf Championship.
This week truly has three things going for it: The Monterey Peninsula may be the nation’s most beautiful piece of real estate, Pebble Beach is undoubtedly one of the world’s premier golf courses, and the U.S. Open is one of golf’s four major events.
My introduction to the area was back in 1981, when a group of Michigan football fans ventured west to actually see the Wolverines win a Bowl game. We were encouraged to take in the “highway one” experience, which meant driving up the coast from L.A. to San Francisco—mostly on a two-lane road which zig-zagged along cliffs which rose 400 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
The drive was both scary and gorgeous at the same time. Stops along the way included the Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo, an Ambrosia Burger at the scenic Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur, and a round of golf at Pebble Beach.
So far it was a pretty good vacation. But for golf junkies like ourselves, the next five hours were going to be spectacular.
We’d been told that Pebble, Augusta National, and St. Andrews were the three examples of golfing heaven. Heading up Pebble’s fourth fairway, we knew they were right. For the first time, the sounds of waves crashing near the fairway were easily heard.
Jack Nicklaus, who won a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1972, summed it up best. “If I had one round left to play,” he said, “I would likely choose Pebble Beach.”
The course itself is loaded with history. How about Nicklaus hitting that one-iron on 17 to clinch the ’72 Open title. “Only Jack Nicklaus and God can hit a one-iron,” quipped Tom Watson.
Of course, it was Watson chipping in at the same 17th to beat Nicklaus in the ’82 Open.
And who can forget Tom Kite’s pitch-in for a birdie at the short 7th in 1992?
Then there’s Tiger Woods, lapping the field here at the 2000 Open, winning by an astonishing 15 strokes.
So what about 2010?
During the last month or so, Phil Mickelson had been given the favorite’s role, but a quick look now shows Tiger as at least the co-favorite in betting circles. Perhaps it was his steady play at the Memorial tournament, or maybe it was the fact that no new mistresses have turned up lately.
Very few others are given a chance, mostly because this year’s setup at Pebble will be unforgiving. The weather calls for sunny but windy conditions every day, so the course will play extremely fast. Couple that with the USGA moving the fairways closer to the ocean on 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10, and you’ll see plenty of balls over a cliff that in the past remained dry.
Players have already remarked that stopping the ball on 14 and 17 is becoming nearly impossible.
That being said, Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson and Padraig Harrington remain long shots. Some have even mentioned Tom Watson, who at age 59, led the 2009 British Open until a final hole bogey sent him into a playoff with eventual champion Stewart Cink.
So it’s now time to get on the course to see some action. We’re headed over to the 331-yard par-4 fourth. After all, it’s the only hole I managed to par many years ago.