Major Changes at Pebble

By Brian HewittJanuary 14, 2009, 5:00 pm
On the sixth hole of the second round of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Tiger Woods famously and impossibly hoisted a 7-iron from a nasty lie in the deep right kikuyu rough to an uphill green from 202 yards. The ball stopped less than 15 feet away.
Just like that, golf history and Tiger Woods lore had yet another snapshot framed inside the natural beauty of the Monterey Peninsula.
Pebble Beach Golf Links
A look at the new-look par-5 sixth hole at Pebble Beach.
This is not a fair fight, said an astonished Roger Maltbie from the booth on NBCs live broadcast.
It was a shot that makes all the Top 10 Tiger Woods lists. And it is a shot we will never see again.
The good folks who run what is arguably Americas most famous golf course have altered the hole. Significantly.
Moreover, they are in the process of changing the entire golf course. Significantly.
By next year, when the course will host the U.S. Open, the back championship tees will stretch past 7,000 yards for the first time at a Pebble Beach Open. More importantly, the golf course will bear a much stronger resemblance to architect Jack Nevilles 1919 design. Pebble Beach has always been breathtaking. But Nevilles original was also dangerous and treacherous.
Mike Davis the course set-up guy for the U.S. Golf Association, said he intends to move the fairways on hole Nos. 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 18 to virtually abut the falloffs into the water. Its something of a contradiction to shave roughs into fairways and produce a tougher test of golf. But thats the gist.
Pebble Beach already is braced for blowback from the purists. We are not, course officials say, putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Rather, they say, we are restoring a masterpiece. The finishing touches, they say, will be ready for the 2010 U.S. Open.
Among those who have signed off on this bold transformation of Americas premier public access golf shrine are Arnold Palmer, part owner of the place and Davis.
As we approached our fifth U.S. Open, we felt strongly that Pebble Beach should be strengthened to heighten the challenge of todays players and todays equipment, said RJ Harper, the senior vice-president for golf at Pebble Beach Resorts. To do this weve scoured the archives to get a clear understanding of the overall original design principles.
The location of new bunkers, tees and trees all fall within the original concepts of the design. They are, for the most part, simply placed to accommodate todays standard of championship play, from the championship tees.
Harper, Palmer and Davis all agreed that Neville had it right when he laid out Pebble Beach with the goal of making the Pacific Ocean, and its adjoining coves and bays, the greatest hazard on the course.
The restoration means, among other things, that Woods Friday drive on the severely canted sixth fairway at the 2000 Open probably would have rolled into Stillwater Cove.
Golf Channels Mark Rolfing, who was on the ground for NBC with Woods group that day, was stunned when he heard of the changes. And he confirmed Woods tee ball was saved from watery perdition only by thick rough that no longer exists.
If theres a downside, Rolfing said, it might come from a pace-of-play standpoint at No. 6 near the hazard lines when it comes to determining drops.
It could be a ruling nightmare, he said.
Davis clarified that the fairway wont actually grow completely to the edges of the cliffs on the holes in question. But, he said, thats because we have to leave 6 feet of intermediate (1 inch) cut so the mowers dont fall into the ocean.
If a ball is just about to run out of steam, it may stop on that short rough, Davis said. If its still rolling at all, its in the water.
Purists wont be the only ones grousing. Players almost certainly will join the collective howl. They know how firm and fast Pebble Beach plays in June when the central California coast thirsts for rain. And they know how severely the fairways on Nos. 9 and 10 camber from left to right. The ninth, by the way will have a new tee box that stretches it from 470 to 505 yards. The new tee at No. 10 checks in at 490, up from 440. Both holes remain par-4s. Overall par will stand at 71.
The goal on those two holes is to put driver back into the hands of the players, Davis said.
Former U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen played in the 54-hole Callaway Invitational at Pebble Beach in November and did a double take when he saw the new tee box at No. 9.
I thought it was the ladies tee at No. 14, he said.
Clearly, the changes at Pebble will force a learning curve upon the players. And Janzen, for one, is alright with that.
With the advances in technology and the players improvement you have to make changes, he said. The fairway growing right up to the hazard will also create a mental hazard for players as they stand on the tee.
Former PGA champion Rich Beem, who also played in the Callaway Invitational, especially loves the concept of no rough up the left side on the 18th. It gives you a reason to challenge the left side of that hole off the tee if you need to make something happen, he said.
Beem is spot on here because Davis loves risk/reward, particularly on the final hole of a U.S. Open. That was evident again last year at Torrey Pines.
They are giving you a chance to get after it on 18, Beem said. But you better be sure of what youre doing. If you take the aggressive left line off that tee and pull it off, you could end up with a middle iron in your hand going for the green in two.
When the PGA Tour arrives at the Monterey Peninsula next month for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am all of this chatter is certain to dominate conversations that will reverberate up through the Del Monte Forest and on out to a waiting golf world that always hungers for any details about the iconic Pebble Beach.
I think the USGA is doing the right thing, Beem said. Theyre realizing you dont always have to grow more rough to make a golf course harder. This is a fantastic idea by the USGA.
To be fair, its an idea shared by Palmer, Pebbles executive staff and, 90 years ago, by Neville.
It will certainly look different, said Harper, who called the opportunity to watch Palmer roll up his sleeves and re-design the bunkering on the sixth one of the highlights of my career.
Thanks to Palmers vision there are now five separate bunkers down the left side of No. 6 instead of one large mass of sand. Janzen and Beem both said the new-look sixth hole was the first thing they noticed in November.
Oh, and remember those four imposing Monterey Pines that helped define the right side of No. 6?
They are no more.
Storms got the first three and the last one had to be removed in September when, according to Pebble Beach superintendent Chris Dalhamer, it died. Even the ardent central California tree-huggers didnt complain.
The loss of those trees cleared the approach to the green providing one more good reason to make No. 6 more challenging.
Predicting 72-hole scores is always a tricky business. One long-time Pebble Beach caddie said, The course will probably play six to eight shots harder over 72 holes. Apprised of that estimate, Harper didnt disagree.
Woods blew away the U.S. Open field in 2000, finishing at 12 under, 15 shots ahead of runners-up Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez. If he duplicates those numbers again in 2010, there will be a Senate investigation.
Other changes include the par-4 third, which is much more difficult off the tee now because of an altered line. The par-4 13th is 35 yards longer and a legitimate brute when it plays into the prevailing wind.
Dalhamer said Pebble Beachs overall playability wont be affected as much next month at the AT&T because rains soften the ground this time of year. Tee balls wont roll as close to the hazards as they will later in the dry summer.
Meanwhile, it was left to Harper to address the larger issues involved in the question of why all the changes:
Our ownership has a philosophy to continually improve all things Pebble Beach, i.e. the hotels, the dining, the service, the total experience, he said. So it started form this principle.
That ownership includes Palmer, actor/director Clint Eastwood and former baseball/Olympics mahout Peter Ueberroth. Last week it was announced that another Pebble Beach fixture, Bill Murray, the actor/comedian and lovable goof, will play in the AT&T next month after a one year absence. Tim Herron will be his partner.
Memo to Lumpy: Dont get anywhere near Murray late in the day during any of the Pebble Beach rounds if his golf ball stops on a new-mown fairway near the coastline. Its a scenario that will be a natural for funny man always looking for a bit.
And it could be hazardous to your health.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson


9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari


5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick


5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello