PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Peggy Ference hit a perfect drive down the middle of the first fairway at Pebble Beach, the only player in her star-studded foursome to find the short grass.
She didn’t find much after that.
The 51-year-old amateur struggled to reach many of the fairways from the championship , shooting 118 in the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge on a windy Wednesday afternoon.
Actor Mark Wahlberg was the only player in the foursome to break 100, making a par on the last hole to shoot 97. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky made a triple-bogey on the final hole to shoot 100, and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees finished at 102.
“I just had to try to get it in the short stuff as quickly as possible,” Ference said. “Just to learn how to hit the shot to get it out of the rough was very challenging.”
The challenge is a made-for-TV event that will air on June 20, before the final round of the U.S. Open. It was born from a quote by Tiger Woods during the 2007 U.S. Open, when he said a 10-handicap couldn’t break 100 on such a tough setup.
The 7,040-yard layout was deemed a par 78 for Ference, who lives in Skillman, N.J., and plays to a 4.9 handicap. She won an essay contest with 24,860 entries to earn the dream round.
But with drives of only about 200 yards, she failed to reach the red tees on some of the holes, and shot a 62 on the front nine. She closed with a 57 on the back nine, making her only par on No. 12—an up-and-down save after failing to hit a green in regulation all day.
It was a calm day for most of the front nine until the foursome turned inland, when gusts of 25 mph blew in the players’ face.
“It felt like a hurricane,” Wahlberg said. “I’m glad it’s over. It was tough out there.”
Ference had Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin caddie for her, as all four players in the group were paired up with PGA Tour golfers. Rickie Fowler was on the bag for Wahlberg, Ricky Barnes carried for Gretzky, and Bubba Watson was with Brees.
Wahlberg, who entered the round with the highest handicap in the group at 14, shot 50-47 to break 100. He blasted a drive down the middle on the 18th hole, laid up in the fairway, and hit the green to set up a two-putt par.
“Those three shots I hit on No. 18 were probably the highlight of the day,” Wahlberg said.
Gretzky holed out a bunker shot on the tiny 109-yard seventh hole for a birdie, but he had an inconsistent day, promptly topping his tee shot on the next hole.
Brees’ opening tee shot hit the roof of the nearby spa bordering the first hole, and he started out 8 over through three holes. The 3-handicap battled back to shoot 47 on the front, before he went 12-over during a four-hole stretch on the back nine to shoot 55. Brees was rusty, having flown in Tuesday after visiting the oil spill cleanup effort in the Gulf Coast.
While Ference didn’t meet her goal of breaking 100, she celebrated small victories during her round, such as when she cleared the 150-yard chasm on the eighth hole to stay dry. After the shot, she raised her arms, turned to her caddie Pavin and gave him a hug.
“This was really about the game of golf and how anybody can play it from any set of tees in any conditions,” Ference said. “I have so much appreciation for what the PGA Tour players encounter, not just in the U.S. Open, but regular tournaments too.”