High winds turn Pebble Beach's 7th into tiny terror


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Pebble Beach’s delightful seventh hole also has an evil side. It was on display Thursday, when blinding rain and 35-mph gusts turned the PGA Tour’s shortest hole into one long headache.

How many 111-yard par 3s would surrender only four birdies to the world’s best players? The iconic seventh played to a 3.14 scoring average during the opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which was later suspended because of unplayable conditions.

“I’ve never played anything like it,” Mark Hubbard said afterward, his ski cap still dripping. “That was the wackiest golf shot I’ve ever hit.”

It was a make-par-and-move-on kind of day. With Pebble’s greens softened by weeks of rain, and with the hole location only four paces from the left and just five from the back, there were only two tee shots closer than 10 feet.

And even Patrick Reed’s birdie required some help.

With the wind howling in and from the right, Reed hit a low, driving 9-iron that hugged the left side of the green. His ball landed in the rough but received a fortuitous bounce to the right, eventually settling 4 feet away.

Reed looked at Pat Perez and smirked. When the crowd started to cheer – to be fair, they didn’t have much to applaud Thursday – Reed shrugged and said, “Bull!"

The conditions deteriorated as the afternoon progressed, but even the first few groups out faced a terrifying shot that, under normal conditions, wouldn’t be more than a flip wedge.

“I try not to give it the prominence that it has, to treat it like another hole,” said Michael Thompson, who was in the first group with Jonas Blixt. “When it’s windy like this, I almost like to imagine that the ball goes out over the water and comes back, just to give the idea of hitting a low punch shot. It’s such an elevated tee that it’s so easy to hit it straight up into the air, and then you don’t know what it’s going to do. I just try to make a real little swing, take enough club, and pray that I get a good gust to keep it on the green, because you don’t want to go long, either.”

Club selection ranged from 6-iron to pitching wedge. Reactions were just as varied.

Andrew “Beef” Johnston, normally a gregarious character, was in no mood to joke after his 6-iron sailed over the green, into the back bunker. He threw up his arms, huffed, and then picked at his beard.

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Shane Lowry, meanwhile, did a little jig when his ball landed safely on the green. Then he eased the concerns of his amateur partner, Gerry McManus, by telling him to punch a 9-iron.

“You just have to hit a good shot,” Lowry said later. “That’s the way the hole is. It’s just feel. An educated guess. You’re just a golfer from there.”

Next up in that group was Padraig Harrington, whose ball started to drift but caught a piece of the left side.

“I could see it like, No, no, no!” Harrington said, shaking his hand to imitate the flight of his ball. “But then you’re like, Phew.”

Afterward, Harrington played it cool. “It doesn’t pose much of a problem,” he said. “I’d play golf all day on 7.”

The rest of the field likely would disagree, after just 23 of 42 players (54.8 percent) hit the green.

Indecision reigned.

Luke Donald was about to play when he stopped, reset behind the ball and asked, “A little right to left?” Yeah, it sure felt like it, but the flag was blowing back toward the tee, at about 5 o’clock. Now Donald was really confused. Uncommitted, he yanked his 8-iron left of the green, onto the eighth tee box.

“Huh,” said Donald’s caddie, Mick Horan. “I fancied 9 myself. It’s really an unbelievable hole.”

Chris Stroud chose pitching wedge and, unlike most players, hoisted it high into the air. His ball hit a wall of wind and dropped 40 feet short. Safe.

Jimmy Walker was more aggressive, punching a low, drawing 9-iron.

“Mmmm,” Stroud said, watching the flight. The ball landed about 10 feet left of the flag. “Golf shot. Beauty.”

It was about 11 a.m. local time when the weather turned nasty, when a sideways rain blew in off the Pacific, when the wind gusted so hard that the tee sign looked as though it might rip clean from its bolted structure.

With the group still putting out on the sixth green, Brad Fritsch’s caddie, Richard Wahl, headed to the seventh tee to get a head start on club selection.

Walking over, he pretended to tip over. “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain!” He studied the yardage book, then looked up at the green. “Hit it at that rock” – yes, the rock that’s 50 yards right of the green – “and we might be able to get it close to the hole.”

Almost on cue, the wind started to howl, the strongest it had all day. Fritsch threw down a ball, no tee. He pushed his 7-iron into the hazard right of the green, the only player to miss that far right.

“At least it’s almost physically impossible to hit it in the water because it’s blowing so hard,” Hubbard said.

The seventh hole was Hubbard’s 16th of the day, and he had little choice but to start his tee shot over the ocean. His ball wound up in the far-left corner of the left greenside bunker. He still saved par.

“Honestly, it’s so bad right now that it’s tough to even get nervous or try to commit,” he said. “It’s so crazy and wacky that you just kind of hit it and laugh. You don’t really grind too hard because what are you supposed to do right now?”

Well, there is one thing. As one caddie walked off the tee box, he turned and said: “Yeah, that was just a total guess.”