The West Coast Swing makes it’s annual stop in Monterey for AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for a week that mixes some of the best of what the best coast swing has to offer, along with some its worst. This tournament is the gorgeous girl that’s carrying around just enough baggage for you to consider whether or not it’s worth looking past. Like, if she’s really hot, but also has a completely irrational crazy side where out of nowhere she ends up yelling at you in Spanish on a boat in Italy loud enough for 50 strangers to hear? (This oddly specific example is by no means intended to be interpreted as a personal example.)
The Pebble Beach Pro-Am gives you views and beauty that go unmatched on the PGA Tour, yet is weighed down by an outdated format that makes the pace and the broadcast intolerable. It’s the golf equivalent of the Hot/Crazy scale. Is it sexy enough to get away with the awful setup?
Myself, I can’t decide if I like this tournament or if I don’t. On one hand, you can look at the top of the field, and picture a dramatic Sunday finish on one of the most famous and scenic holes in the history of golf and picture this being one of the best annual stops of the year. Yet our memories of this event are clouded by marine layer of bad weather, Chris Berman, and an overdose of Bill Murray. At times, you can’t look away, and at times it’s unbearable to watch. Is it a rabbit or is it a duck?
With the limited sunlight this time of year, two tees and a minimum of two courses are a necessity for the first two rounds (if you don’t want to limit the size of the field, like they do in Scottsdale). When amateurs are added to the mix, you’re obligated to add a third course just to logistically fit everyone on the tee sheet. This means a Saturday cut, amateurs playing along side professionals vying for a title on Sunday (!), and a lack of overall rhythm to the entire week. This setup is a mess compared to Torrey Pines, where you mix in an easier course for one of the first two rounds, but the championship is decided on the difficult one over the course of the weekend. It’s sloppy, overhyped, and outdated. Maybe this guy really is perfect for this week:
Ever heard of it? Widely known as (at minimum) one of the five best golf courses in the world, Pebble has played host to this tournament since 1947, as well as five U.S. Opens through the years. Measuring 6,816 yards, it’s the shortest track in the PGA Tour rotation and actually plays the easiest (in relation to par) of the three courses in the rota this week.
Get your picture in front of the ocean out of the way pre-round because there are birdies to be had from the get-go. The first eight holes are way gettable with two reachable par-5’s, as well as a potentially (depending on prevailing winds) driveable par-4 (#4). Holes 9 and 10 are brutal par-4’s along the ocean that can be really awkward for righties. Once the course routes inland, holes 11 through 16 are, relatively speaking, extremely forgettable (you’re still at f’ing Pebble). The 17th points you back at the ocean, and the famous 18th brings you home along Stillwater Cove.
Another course straight off a postcard, Spyglass has the reputation as “Pebble’s Little Sister” (actually I just made this up, but it works). Diminutive like Pebble (listed at 6,858 yards) and much lesser known, it’s actually a very stern test with #8 and #16 considered two of the toughest holes on Tour. Possessing serious elevation changes, oddly shaped greens, and awkward uphill/downhill shots, all the while overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Spyglass camps out at the top of public course rankings. The last thing we’ll note is that the course sometimes borders a little bit on rinky-dink due to the shortness, shapes and forced iron play. Glass half-full, it’s shot-maker nirvana; glass half-empty, it’s the prettiest damn pitch and putt you’ll find.
Monterey Peninsula (Shore Course)
MPCC was added to the tourney rotation in 2010, and has recently been extended through 2020 as the third site for the event. Stop me if you’ve heard this so far: it’s beautifully scenic, with ocean views, and short (6,838 yards). MPCC usually gets cut out of the broadcast for the most part, so there’s much we don’t really know about it. The front-nine is a funky little par-34 featuring three par-3s, so there is that. Unofficially, this seems to be the least favorite of the three among the tour players.
For more information, here’s a solid website which runs through the aforementioned courses, as well as other beauties in the area like Cypress and Pasatiempo (more on this below).
The tourney describes itself as ‘A Charitable Classic since 1937,’ when Bing Crosby “invited some friends to play golf, enjoy a clambake, and raise a little money for charity.” NLU Godfather Sam Snead won the inaugural Pro-Am in ’37, and legends have continued to raise what looks like a miniature, crystallized version of the CN Tower ever since:
Shortly after, Phil told Clint to ‘GET OFF MY LAWN’
These days things feel a little more corporate (then again what doesn’t, am I right?) what with the number of big-money, non-celeb amateurs in the field. Amazingly AT&T has maintained its lead sponsorship of the event since 1986–that and $0.50 will get you a cup of coffee!
Truth be told, even though the celebs overall border on C-list, it’s kinda cool the tournament has held on to its roots with the Hollywood folk sauntering around inside and outside the ropes. Their presence, along with the unrelenting gorgeous scenery, always puts everyone in good spirits and the vibe does hit ‘convivial clambake’ throughout the week, even if it’s meandered from Bing Crosby’s exclusive-based-on-coolness to exclusive-based-on-Bilderberg membership. Pros here to grind won’t have fun. Amateurs here to grind should be shot.
I scrolled down the list of “celebrities,” and came up with the following analysis on the pairings:
- J.J. Henry and Chris Berman – 1/1000 odds that Berman calls him “J.J. WAAAATTTT” at some point this week.
- Jason Gore and Carson Daly – Cross Gore’s body type with Daly’s name and you literally get John Daly.
- Kevin Na and Kenny G – Tell me we get a caddie bib that says “NA/G” on the back of it.
- Bubba Watson and Mark Wahlberg – I can’t wait for Bubba to try to act cool around Marky Mark.
- Ryan Moore and Josh Duhamel – I hope Duhamel tries to tell Moore that Tim Tebow is 10 times the player that Moore is.
- Justin Rose and Justin Timberlake – Complete opposite ends of the swag spectrum.
I had already written Sneds off (I believe the term I used was “de-listed from the exchange”) when he edged the ghost of Nick Watney by three shots. You’ll see a lot of other big names on the front page of this leaderboard, including two guys who went on to win a combined ten nine times in 2015 after this event.
- Bill Murray finally got his win here back in 2012 with D.A. Points. What followed was the worst chest bump in the history of man kind.
- Johnny Miller won here in 1994 at the age of 46. Expect to hear him mention this on the broadcast this weekend. Oh he’s not calling the event? See if that stops him…
- Matt Gogel has still not recovered from Tiger running him down in 2000 to win his 6th consecutive tournament. (OK, he won the event two years later, but you know this still haunts him):
One bet I’m making this week is on Bryce Molder at 95/1. He’s developed the reputation as a (very) poor man’s Charles Howell III (seriously, check Chucky Triple Sticks career earnings) as a guy who makes his entire living off of the west coast, with Pebble Beach being his biggest 401k contributor. He’s finished in the top 12 here four of his last six starts, and the shorter courses play to his advantage.
The second bet is on James Hahn at 100/1, only because some smart people I follow on twitter were all over this one.
For fantasy purposes, it’s a good week to load up on the big guns. Spieth-Day-DJ in the A group on Yahoo! makes it tough to decide on just two, but I would say slide DJ in the starting spot and pick one of the two for the second spot and only use him if you need him (i.e., DJ missed cut).
In the B group, I’m riding out Sneds and Walker as long as we’re in this time zone, and rolling with the Molder pick in the C group.
The Saturday CBS broadcast is the absolute worst of the entire year, as they spend more time schmoozing with celebs and fake celebs than a Keeping Up With The Kardashian’s marathon. The only way you’re going to survive this telecast is to drink whenever the following happens:
- Jim Nantz tries to make it seem like he feels bad about the weather being shitty in your city while he looks at whales surfacing in the cove.
- Your eyes bleed from Peter Kostis wasting his phenomenal talents on the Konica Minolta Bizhub Swing Vision Camera on a celebrity’s awful swing.
- Kenny G’s fake 2-handicap pops up on screen. Or any fake handicap for that matter. Most of the amateurs in this event are titans of their industry, type-A’s to the core. Lopping off a stroke or six from their Index for appearances is standard operating procedure.
- The annual Gary Mule Deer sighting.
- Chris Berman can’t get out of a greenside bunker. Or you see Chris Berman’s pit stains. Or just generally whenever Chris Berman is on camera—you’ll want to be as numb as possible.
- A Dustin Johnson-Paulina Gretzky-Wayne Gretzky parallel is drawn and the palpable awkwardness hangs in the air.
- CBS interviews an Entertainment-industry celeb you’ve never heard of.
- An amateur clumsily attempts to pick up or scoop his ball green-side. Most of these peeps realize they have no business being alongside Pros and are walking on eggshells all week. Around the greens especially they’re trying to 1) stay the hell out of the way and 2) get the hell out of the way after they do have to hit their ball. For most of em this usually results in rushed, non-athletic moves to pocket their rock. Cheers to that!
- You find yourself muttering, either silently or aloud, “why the hell is CBS showing [insert amateur’s name] again?”
- You get The Itch and live north of the Mason-Dixon line. You’ll want to consume heavily knowing it’s early February and golf season is still at least a month and a half away.
- The best part of this week for Randy and Tron is the presence of Dermot Desmond and JP McManus. These two Irish playboy billionaires have lived pretty incredible lives (check out their wiki links for full detail–we’ll hit the highlights below).
- McManus (pictured on the right) made an early killing in the horse racing hustle, as both owner and wagerer. Awesome. He’s also a currency savant it seems, acquiring a sizable chunk of his billions trading FX from a small office in Geneva, Switzerland. Of course. He’s also a large shareholder in Ladbrokes. Savory. Not mentioned: obligatory run-ins with regulating bodies and questions surrounding certain business dealings. Hey, it happens.
- Desmond (pictured left) is basically McManus minus the penchant for ponies plus some badass lip foliage. He’s a wheeler and dealer across all business industries, his main profession making money. He has majority ownership of Celtic FC, while also having stakes in Casinos, Airports, and seemingly everything else. Like McManus, he’s crossed paths with governing agencies, a requisite for real wealth-builders.
- Pasatiempo, as mentioned above, is one of the most underrated gems in the area, if not the country. The pictures don’t do this Alister MacKenzie masterpiece justice. This intricate design with lush rolling fairways just oozes class. I had a chance to play it six years ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Tron, Randy, and Neil made it out there for Tron’s bachelor party last year, and had similar ravings. If you’re ever in the area, I can’t recommend it enough.
- I talked about Fowler’s decision on the 71st hole of the Waste Management Phoenix Open over at SB Nation this week. Having slept on it for a couple of nights, I still think it was the right call. It helped that Fowler’s caddie chimed in that he agreed with the analysis.
- In case I didn’t beat it enough to death there, I debated it with Shane Ryan on the NLU Podcast this week. If you’re sick of that debate, fast forward to the 25 minute mark.
- I thought last week was a pretty transformative week for the PGA Tour. The Wednesday Pro-Am GoPro live stream from the 16th hole was exactly the kind of thing that fans have been clamoring for, and it was pretty much must-see-TV. If you ignore Peter Jacobsen’s cheesy commentary, this moment stood out to me as the lasting image for the week. The same crowd that completely undressed Bubba cheered as loud as they had all day for Rickie Fowler, and gave him a huge ovation when he didn’t even find the green. The guy has a way with the fans, and his game is backing it up.
- You would think I’m getting paid to say it at this point, but I really do love PGA Tour Live. It’s well worth the $5 a month subscription, even just to have the dialogue on as background noise during work. The video quality is fantastic, and they show every single shot from six guys at a time. John Swantek and his gang just talk golf, and don’t beat you to death with narrative crap like you see on the broadcast. It’s for sure worth checking out.