PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Rob Oppenheim was in the stands at NGR Stadium last Sunday when his beloved New England Patriots authored a historic comeback to win the Super Bowl. A week later, he was in between the ropes with the Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, and hoping to write his own storybook ending.
“I was joking with my father,” Oppenheim said Saturday night, “that if the Patriots can come back from 28-3, there’s stranger things [that can happen]. Not saying it’s something like that, but anything is possible.”
Oppenheim begins the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in fifth place, eight shots behind Jordan Spieth, so this likely won’t be the site of his first PGA Tour title. But it’s been a week of small victories for the 37-year-old journeyman.
Last fall, he was the hard-luck loser during the Web.com Tour Finals when the season finale was canceled because of weather. At No. 26 on the money list, he missed his PGA Tour card by $392. A year earlier, he’d nabbed the final card by $101. The year before that, he made a hole-in-one in the final round of Q-School to earn full status by one shot.
Maybe one of these years he’ll make it easy on himself.
“I know, it’s amazing,” he said. “My family is not happy with me, the stress I’ve put them through. But that’s golf. I’ve just got to play a little better to make things more comfortable.”
And that’s why opportunities like Sunday’s final round must be cherished.
Playing at Pebble Beach on a sponsor exemption, a big paycheck would go a long way toward securing status for next season. (He already has a top-10 on the Web.com circuit this year.) At the very least, finishing in the top 10 here would get him into next week’s event at Riviera.
“To say I’m not going to think about things like that,” he said, “it’d be impossible not to.”
Oppenheim’s amateur partner this week is Bill Perocchi, the CEO of Pebble Beach, a fellow New Englander whom he befriended when he made a run at the 1999 U.S. Amateur. In their group the first three rounds was Ricky Barnes, whose father, Bruce, was a former Patriots punter, and Belichick, arguably the best football coach of all time, who was three days removed from one of the most memorable Super Bowls in history.
“I feel like I’m probably a 30-handicapper talking football with him,” Oppenheim said. “I follow football closely but never played. Talking to him you’re scared, like, 'Am I saying stupid things about football?' But he was great. He answered every question we had.”
Oppenheim was struck by Belichick’s attention to detail prior to the Super Bowl, how he prepared and practiced for the swings in momentum, for the more frequent timeouts and the halftime period that was 17 minutes longer than usual. Had New England lost to Atlanta, it’s a safe bet the notoriously grumpy coach would have skipped Pebble.
Instead, after rounds of 69-69-68, Oppenheim had “the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.”
“There’s a lot of good energy out there,” he said. “Sometimes things like that help.”