“I’ve never seen a golf course change so much in (4 ½) months,” Brown gushes into his cell phone. “Unbelievable.”
Brown should know. The soulful looper spent three years working out of the Pebble Beach caddie yard, from 2002 to late ’04, and he has spent the last three seasons caddying for Dustin Johnson, winner of the last two AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams. What Brown was realizing and the rest of us will start to understand this week is that the old “Clambake” looks nothing like the course that will host the year’s second major.
Because few, if any, are as qualified as Brown to analyze Pebble Beach we had him do a hole-by-hole breakdown for this week’s championship with an occasional assist from Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s top set-up man who also ran through the Pebble Beach card recently with GolfChannel.com.
No. 1 (par 4, 380 yards): From the outset, Brown makes it clear that Johnson, who led the field in driving distance at the 2009 and ’10 Pro-Ams, will not try to overpower Pebble Beach. “He will hit driver at 2, 3, 9, 10, 13, 14 and 18,” Brown said. “That’s it.” Johnson won’t have to at the first, which was among the easiest holes during the 2000 Pebble Beach Open with a 4.151 scoring average.
No. 2 (par 4, 502 yards): A par 5 during the Pro-Am and for guests, but the course recently lost two Monterey Pines near the driving area and officials decided to play it, as they did in 2000, as a long par 4. During Saturday’s practice round Johnson his driver/9-iron into the small green.
No. 3 (par 4, 404 yards): The third was lengthened for this year’s championship and the added real-estate appears to have the intended impact. “We wanted to put driver back in their hands,” Davis said.
No. 4 (par 4, 331 yards): Davis’ Open legacy, along with graduated rough and varied tee boxes, is a drivable par 4 and the fourth will be Pebble’s shortie. “Pretty sure they will make it drivable at least one day,” Brown said.
No. 5 (par 3, 195 yards): Davis may also get creative here. There is a forward tee box, which shortens the hole to about 140 yards and slightly changes the angle of the shot. Expect it to be used at least once.
No. 6 (par 5, 523 yards): The easiest hole during the 2000 Open, but don’t expect the longer hitters to be overly aggressive. The fairway has been shifted over to the right, bringing the ocean more into play. “If you get any cut spin at all it’s going to run off (the cliff),” Brown said. “It’s right on the edge. I’m afraid to walk over there.” On Saturday Phil Mickelson hit 2-iron/4-iron into the hole.
No. 7 (par 3, 109 yards): The shortest hole in U.S. Open history is little more than a sand wedge for most players in calm conditions.
No. 8 (par 4, 428 yard): Davis and the USGA have shifted the fairway some 30 yards right of where it was before and the hard, fast conditions will force players to lay well back from the canon. Brown said Johnson will likely tee off with a 5-iron and have about a 6- or 7-iron for his approach shot.
No. 9 (par 4, 505 yards): Brown said the downhill hole will play much shorter with the firm conditions, but – like many of Pebble’s fairways – Davis has brought the ocean into play on the right. The ninth was the hardest hole at the 2000 Open (4.556 average).
No. 10 (par 4, 495 yards): Even with new tees that added nearly 50 yards to the hole, Brown said Johnson should have a short iron for his approach.
No. 11 (par 4, 390 yards): Brown said Johnson will tee off with a 4-iron and, if history holes, this should be a birdie hole. In 2000 the 11th played to a 4.16 average.
No. 12 (par 3, 202 yards): Brown said the 12th is normally into the wind, which will require longer players to hit 6- or 7-iron tee shots.
No. 13 (par 4, 445 yards): Davis calls this the “neatest” hole on the course and Brown said Johnson will be aggressive at the 13th, hitting driver off the tee which will leave him about an 8-iron for his approach because, “Any putt from above the hole is the fastest at Pebble Beach,” Brown said.
No. 14 (par 5, 580 yards): Expect players to challenge here, Brown said Mickelson hit driver/4-iron into the 14th on Saturday, but Davis has shaved the collection area behind the green which will make any shot long that much more demanding.
No. 15 (par 4, 387 yards): Brown said any tee shot short of the pot bunker will leave little more than a pitching wedge approach shot for most players.
No. 16 (par 4, 403 yards): Brown said the key on this hole is to avoid the “Hale Irwin” bunker off the tee.
No. 17 (par 3, 208 yards): Tough hole will be even more demanding in dry conditions. Brown said Johnson hit his 5-iron tee shot four paces short of the green on Saturday and lipped out the ace attempt.
No. 18 (par 5, 543 yards): Davis said the USGA has narrowed the fairway, from about 45 yards wide in the landing area to about 30 yards wide. Still, Johnson plans to hit driver. On Saturday Brown said he tossed five balls into the bunker where his man got up-and-down from earlier this year to win his second Pro-Am. “He hit them all to 2 feet,” Brown said. “It was great to relive those memories.