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5 Things for AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth's encore, Kamaiu Johnson's debut

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While the PGA Tour makes its annual stop at iconic Pebble Beach, the celebrities won’t be joining them this time. Neither will the world No. 1. But at least we have a revived Jordan Spieth.

Here's everything you need – and some stuff you didn't think you needed – to know for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am:


All eyes on

Can I get an encore? Was last week fun or what? Jordan Spieth was in vintage form as he nearly ended his lengthy winless streak at the Phoenix Open. He scrambled like crazy on Thursday, then struck it beautifully on Friday. His 61 on Saturday tied his career low on Tour and gave him his first 54-hole lead since the 2018 Open. And despite Sunday’s 72 and T-4 finish, Spieth left TPC Scottsdale encouraged.

“I'm really excited about the progress that has been made in the first two weeks,” said Spieth, who missed the cut in his 2021 debut at Farmers but jumped up 22 spots to 69th in the world rankings at WMPO. “It is far from where I want it to be as far as how it feels, but, boy, I was debating not even playing this week, dropping out on Friday afternoon last week. I just wanted to potentially go home, and felt like I was really far from where I needed to be and this golf course in general isn't a great golf course for me historically, so I thought I could then go in to Pebble a little fresher. Boy, I'm glad I came.”

Now, Spieth will look to build off his Phoenix showing at Pebble, a place where he’s had success in the past, including a win in 2017 and three other top-10s, including a T-9 last year.


Kamaiu Johnson
Kamaiu Johnson

What else we’re talking about

No DJ: After winning Sunday in Saudi Arabia, Dustin Johnson was supposed to fly directly to Pebble Beach and assume his role as the tournament favorite (+350 odds). However, the world No. 1 and two-time Pro-Am winner withdrew late Monday night.

Said David Winkle, Johnson's agent and manager, in a statement: “Dustin has decided it would be best to enjoy a week at home before The Genesis Invitational and the World Golf Championships at The Concession. Other than being a bit jet lagged, he is feeling great and looking forward to the weeks ahead. While he is disappointed to miss the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which is always one of his favorite weeks, he feels his decision is for the best.”

Perhaps with future father-in-law Wayne Gretzky and the rest of the celebrities having to sit this one out, Johnson’s decision was made a little easier.

A tougher Pebble and Spyglass? With no celebrities competing this year because of the pandemic, the Pro-Am will lack its normal spectacle. And having no fans will hurt financially, both the tournament and the local area.

“It just didn't feel right,” tournament director Steve John told ESPN.com. “There have been minimal COVID positives, and we knew we could do this safely. But [to have amateurs], you start adding all the layers. More volunteers are needed. And at the end of the day, it didn't make sense to continue with that model. No one really wanted it to come to that.”

Added John: “Our revenue stream from ticket sales is roughly $2 million. That's gone. But everyone suffers. Hotels, rentals cars. Nobody in the restaurants. The hit is beyond our tournament. Those ticket sales are a revenue stream we can't recover. The whole thing is really strange. It's weird to look out there and see nothing but the TV towers. But the golf course is spectacular.”

Ah, the golf course. Pebble Beach is one of the best venues in the world, and this year it should have some teeth. With no amateurs hacking up the place, the setup team will be able to make things more difficult with tougher pins and green speeds. The same goes for Spyglass, another gem with arguably the best five opening holes in professional golf.

Kamaiu’s debut: After having to withdraw from his PGA Tour debut two weeks ago at Torrey Pines because of COVID-19, Kamaiu Johnson is set to tee it up for the first time on Tour beginning Thursday.

The 27-year-old Johnson has an amazing story (read more from my colleague Ryan Lavner) and will be easy to root for this week at Pebble. He also has an exemption into the Honda Classic later this month. And this week, he'll be joined in the field by another standout and inspiring Black golfer in Kevin Hall, who won the Big Ten title by 11 shots in 2004 and is also deaf.

“I’m so excited, overwhelmed. It’s just an amazing feeling,” Johnson said on a conference call with reporters last month. “I really can’t explain the turn of events. It happened so fast. Starting this week, I thought I was going to get in my first PGA Tour event. God had other plans. I’m just so thankful for the support I’ve gotten over these past five days.”


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Gut feeling

Patrick Cantlay wins. With no Johnson, Cantlay is now the tournament favorite (+750). With one of the weaker fields in recent history in this event, Cantlay should contend. He has two top-10s in four career Pro-Am starts and recently finished second in Palm Springs. His current run includes that runner-up, a win last fall at Zozo and four other top-17 finishes in his last eight starts.



Remember when…

Hale Irwin got the luckiest break ever? Trailing by a shot with one hole to play at the 1984 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, Irwin hooked his tee shot at Pebble Beach’s par-5 18th hole into the rocks.

“Noooo!” Irwin screamed after making contact.

Amazingly, though, Irwin’s yellow ball took a fortuitous kick into the fairway.

“I've seen 300 golf balls go over that cliff, none of which ever made it back to the fairway before,” Irwin told the New York Times that day. “When I hit the tee shot at 18, I said things you can't repeat. Then when it bounced out, I looked up and said, 'I'm sorry I said that.’”

The fortunate break set up a closing birdie – after a near hole-out for eagle; Irwin’s third shot clanked off the flagstick – that would force a playoff between Irwin and Jim Nelford.

On the second playoff hole, the par-4 16th, Irwin hit another spectacular – though less lucky – shot from a fairway bunker, his 2-iron strike from 213 yards out coming to rest 8 feet from the hole to set up the winning birdie.


Pebble Beach No. 7 in 1928
Pebble Beach Golf Links

Did you know?

That Pebble Beach’s seventh hole used to look like this? The year was 1928 and in preparation for the 1929 U.S. Amateur, co-designed Chandler Egan, with the help of Robert Hunter, added massive dunes throughout the property, including at the famed par-3 hole. This move reduced the size of the previous green, which three years earlier had already been slimmed down from the original putting surface and turned into more of an L-shape.

“The new green has been placed as close to the ocean as possible,” Egan said then. “It is irregular in shape, 100 feet long from the front to back and from 45- to 50-feet wide. It is completely surrounded by sand dune bunkering.”

The hole has undergone several big changes since. By the 1940s, the dunes had been transformed into more manicured bunkers while the placement of the bunkers has been altered over the years, as well. For the 1992 U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus helped rebuild the green and its surrounds into what it is now.

Interestingly, while the rest of the course has been lengthened considerably over the years, the seventh hole has remained the same 106 yards that it played in 1919, when it opened.

“The seventh is a little gem of a mashie shot, only 106 yards and a drop of 40 feet from tee to green,” co-designer Jack Neville wrote in Pacific Golf & Motor in 1917. “The latter is surrounded on three sides by the bay. There is usually a little wind blowing on this point, which gives it every natural hazard to the golfer, making this hole one of the most interesting on the links.”

Also, check out this sweet timeline on Pebble's website.