Pebble's reverse psychology: Let ams lure pros

By Will GrayFebruary 10, 2016, 9:55 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The Crosby. The Clambake. The AT&T, or perhaps just simply, “Pebble.”

Call it what you want, this week’s PGA Tour stop has a rich history. It boasts some of the best views in golf and invites players to tee it up along the game’s most storied patch of coastline – outside of Scotland, anyway.

But in recent years, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has been dogged by other perceptions: namely a stale list of amateur participants, many of whom hacked their way across this little strip of paradise. It meant six-plus-hour rounds for the pros, surrounded by fans who often came more for the celebrity sightings than the golf occurring inside the ropes.

It led to this becoming one of the weaker events of the West Coast swing, as players flocked to locales like Torrey Pines and Riviera but avoided Pebble Beach in droves.

That trend, though, has turned around in a big way this week. Jordan Spieth headlines a field that includes six of the top nine players in the latest world ranking, and the winner will receive 54 OWGR points – six more than the tournament’s previous high and a stark contrast to the 38 points Phil Mickelson got for his win just four years ago.

Spieth’s fourth straight appearance here comes as no surprise considering his ties to the title sponsor, but it carries more weight as the No. 1 player in the world. He attributes the deeper field not to the top-ranked pros, but to a revamped celebrity list that includes his pro-am partner, Jake Owen.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Articles, photos and videos

“I think a lot of it has to do with guys like Jake, guys like these other incredible celebrities,” Spieth said. “I think that the celebrities actually have kind of helped build this tournament.”

Tournament director Steve John agrees. His team always strives to recruit the best field, but they hit paydirt this year by turning their usual process on its head.

“It’s the best field we’ve ever had, and I think it just speaks to what the tournament has become,” John said. “We work hard year-round to get the best pros here, but what happened this year was we actually went out and recruited the best celebrities, and they brought their pros.”

That tactic quickly paid off, as actor Mark Wahlberg persuaded Bubba Watson to make his first tournament appearance since 2007. Singer Justin Timberlake will team with Justin Rose in the Englishman’s first appearance at Pebble, while baseball all-star Josh Donaldson got his friend and fellow Auburn alum Jason Dufner to make the trip.

“We’ve been trying to keep the celebrity and athlete field fresh for years,” John said. “That’s always been the goal, but this year we just stepped on the accelerator.”

Granted, nothing has changed about the tournament format that led to many players skipping the event. Participants still must shuttle across three different golf courses, and they’ll play the first three rounds in foursomes with amateurs of varying skill. 

But players like Jason Day have experienced regular success here despite those variables. The Aussie sees the game’s elite crop getting younger and younger, and he believes that trend has led to a revised stance on this event from many of his peers.

“There was a little bit of flavor lost with the players, I think because the guys were older,” Day said. “And now we have a young group of guys that enjoy hanging around celebrities, enjoying seeing people or seeing celebrities in the tent and getting to know them and talk to them.

“Trying to get Tiger Woods and Phil and all those guys constantly going back a few years is a little bit tougher because they’re older and they have a schedule to keep and families and all that stuff.”

While this week’s field has unprecedented depth, all signs point back to Spieth as he makes his first start in the mainland U.S. since the Tour Championship. He and Owen have become a regular duo here, and Spieth has embraced the tournament’s unique format.

“Even if the rounds are a bit longer because you have foursomes, you’re still having more fun,” he said. “You’re getting to kind of in a way feel like you’re playing a team event while still kind of grinding yourself. It’s hard to explain.”

There are a myriad factors to explain why so many top players have congregated this week on the Monterey Peninsula, and each would weigh those factors differently according to his preference. But the net result is a field that could produce a star-studded finish for pros, amateurs and fans alike.

Plus, the scenery isn’t exactly a deterrent.

“Maybe it’s just these courses bring out the smiles in everybody,” Spieth suggested. “But we have them.”

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”