“Rex,” the voice at the other end of a one-bar cell phone connection sighs, “there’s just something about a Pebble Beach Open.”
And with that Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s top golf course set-up man, offered a “Cliff’s Notes” journey down a scenic nostalgia lane. From Nicklaus in 1972 to Watson in 1982 and even Woods’ brutish masterpiece in 2000, Davis offered an oral resume for the greatest meeting of land, sea and air in the game, or so the old saw goes.
Those with ADD will dismiss the allure of Pebble Beach to the old real-estate rule – location, location, location. But then the four national championships played on the Golf Links transcend soulful views and Polaroid-perfect snapshots of Carmel Bay. After all, we enjoy a steady parade of such images each year when the old Crosby comes to town.
And give credit to the USGA and Davis on this. Some will glance at the results from the last U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and might wonder aloud: Was the tee sheet at Torrey Pines all filled up?
“It’s funny the people who say, ‘Fifteen strokes (Woods’ margin of victory in 2000)? Do you really want to go back there,’” Davis laughs. “You really want to shake these people and say, ‘The best the rest of the field could do was 3 over.’”
Woods’ four-round 2000 TKO aside, the links have delivered, which is why the championship returns to Monterey in June and why many players decided to brave “Crosby Weather” and five-hour pro-am rounds to play this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
They all know the drill. February Pebble Beach and June Pebble Beach may be of similar DNA, but many consider the two separated at birth. This week’s celebrity-driven event will be wet with little to no rough and greens on the SpongeBob Square Pants side of the Stimpmeter.
There are, however, nuggets to be gleaned from a few soggy rounds in February.
“The biggest thing will be the sight lines,” Davis said. “It will be a much different look from what they saw last year.”
Players will discover new tee boxes at Nos. 9, 10 and 13 that add between 40 to 50 yards to each hole, shifted fairways at Nos. 8 and 18 and new mowing patterns that bring the water into play on every hole that runs along the water.
“I think that's great. That's what the ocean is there for to catch off-line shots, and if you have thick rough, one bounce and it just stops and takes away an extra shot,” said Luke Donald, who usually comes out to a major championship venue a week early to prepare but with his wife expecting the couples’ first child at the end of March he needed to do some early scouting.
“Why not let the lay of the land determine what happens to your golf ball? Don't let long rough grab the ball. I'm sure there will be long rough on the other side, though.”
Smart man that Luke Donald. On the famed 18th hole, for example, the fairway has been shifted to the left toward the ocean while the rough has been grown down the right forcing players toward the hazard.
Players can also count on a few Davis staples like tightly mown areas around greens (No. 14), graduated rough and even a drivable par 4 . . . maybe.
“We have a few options, but I’m not sure we’re going to have one. We’re going to have to look at the course that week,” Davis said.
That’s not to say, however, that Davis and the USGA are content with the Pebble Beach status quo. The layout may be timeless, but new groove regulations notwithstanding technology marches on.
“There are things we wanted to work on,” Davis said. “Jack Nicklaus hit the green in two (shots) in 2000 at (No.) 18. He was what? 60 (years old). That gives you an idea how it played.”
Translation: Phil Mickelson might want to rethink that no-driver U.S. Open experiment from a few years back.
It is exactly the outlook players have become accustomed.
“The USGA has figured out to make holes harder and players more upset before they even get there,” Brad Faxon said.
Still, the fact there was no Rees Jones extreme makeover after the 2000 Open is exactly what makes the seaside gem so special, and why Davis gets nostalgic when he imagines the possibilities.
“Pebble is Pebble. We don’t have to do too much. Every time we have an Open at Pebble something historic happens,” said Davis, USGA executive, armchair architect and, when it comes to Pebble Beach, hopeless romantic.