Ernie Els steps off the seventh tee and into the foreground.
Dozens of cameras are out in the gallery, clicking and clacking and humming in Wednesday’s practice round at the U.S. Open.
As popular as Els is, the funny thing is that you know the vast majority of these golf fans aren’t interested in photographing him.
He’s a prop.
He’s perspective in the foreground because the stage is bigger than the stars here.
Pebble Beach Golf Links’ seventh hole, a short little par 3 at 109 yards, is a wondrous collaboration between man and a higher power.
Jack Neville and Douglas Grant may get credit as architects for designing this hole, but God’s hand moved here. The architects get credit for being smart enough to see the possibilities in positioning tee and green here.
“It’s breathtaking,” says Eric Axley, one of the 156 players who will tee it up in Thursday’s start of the championship.
The seventh green is built on an outcropping of land sticking into Carmel Bay.
Under sapphire skies on this picturesque Wednesday, with just a hint of mist blowing off the sea, the Pacific Ocean glitters like a blanket of diamonds.
Waves slamming into the craggy rocks on the shoreline shoot skyward like little geysers.
Seagulls hover like kites, floating on the wind.
It’s the kind of day that tempts a player to reach out and pull his wife off the ropes and walk arm-in-arm to the green.
That’s what Erik Compton did after he hit his tee shot. They looked like lovers on vacation.
This is the allure of Pebble Beach’s seventh hole, where the grandeur’s so much bigger than the golf.
As a championship test, the hole’s deceptively difficult, easy to dismiss if you’ve only played it with generous winds.
Players were hitting three-quarter wedges into the hole on Wednesday.
Back in 1992, with the winds roaring off the ocean in the final round, Tom Kite needed a 6-iron to reach the green and pulled it left. He famously pitched in for birdie on his way to the title.
“I like the seventh hole,” three-time major championship winner Padraig Harrington said. “I suppose it’s only treacherous because it's so short. A little hole like that, you feel like you should be making birdie, or it shouldn't be that difficult.”
But the winds make it so. A missed shot here can find the ocean, bunkers that surround the green like a moat, or the deep wispy grasses coming up in the rough.
“The U.S. Open has a certain heritage at this golf course, a little bit like Augusta National,” Harrington said. “We remember shots that other people have hit. And they tend to be not good shots. We tend to remember the bad shots. That carries a lot of baggage, and it's not my own baggage, it's everybody else's baggage when you go to the seventh hole. It intimidates you a little bit more picking the right club to hit.
“I don't think there's any player in the field that's not rooting for their playing partner to make birdie on the sixth so that they get to go first on No. 7 and you get to see the club. With no wind, it’s a little sand wedge, it’s a birdie opportunity. Get a strong wind . . . it can be a daunting hole with a 6-iron.
“It seems the shorter the par 3s, the more intimidating, because the players feel they should perform on them. And it's harder for us sometimes to control those short irons into the wind.”