First group off struggles mightily at Pebble

Deane Pappas at the 2008 U.S. Bank Championship.

Deane Pappas at the 2008 U.S. Bank Championship.


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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Figuratively speaking, I followed players who were roughed, shanked, beached and clocked in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Open.

For years and years, I have followed the first group off the tee on Day 1 of the U.S. Open.

It’s a great way to see the golf course, and the crowds are not yet at full strength.

At the 2002 U.S. Open, the U.S. Golf Association implemented a 10th tee start – half the field starting on the first tee, half starting on the 10th tee. I decided to maintain my habit of walking with the first group off No. 1.

It was cold Thursday morning at 7 a.m., but it was time for Deane Pappas, Gary Woodland Paul Sheehan to begin play from the first tee at Pebble Beach Golf Links. All three hit, all three found the rough. This established a pattern that wouldn’t go away.

Through the first four holes (all par 4s), 12 separate tee shots tried their best to nest in the fairway, but only three were successful. I’m no statistician, but 3-for-12 (25 percent) must be somewhere between pathetic and awful.

All day long, the players were roughed up.

Pappas was even par through three holes, then found himself 6 over after eight holes. At that point, both Woodland and Sheehan were 3 over. At the end of the day, Woodland posted 76, while Sheehan had 80 and Pappas 81. 

Note to myself: Pebble Beach can be a serial killer of golfers.

Keep in mind that the first eight holes at Pebble Beach are exceptionally short by major championship standards. The second hole, converted from a par 5 in the 2000 U.S. Open to a par 4 in this year’s championship, is the only hole among the first eight in which driver is the club of choice off the tee. On the other seven holes, players generally select from a variety of fairways woods, hybrids and irons.

At the par-4 first hole, Sheehan earned a double honor – first double bogey of the tournament and first three-putt of the tournament. It was not what the Australian had in mind.

At the par-4 third hole, the long-hitting Woodland faced a second shot of no more than 50 yards. Because his ball was tangled in the rough, he didn’t make solid contact. In fact, he made hosel contact. Can you say shank?

Many observers wondered how players would handle the par-5 sixth hole. The fairway was moved to the right for this U.S. Open, exposing golfers to the perils of Stillwater Cove.

After Woodland cranked his drive through the fairway on No. 6, it ended up on the beach, where the advancing tide tried to gobble it up. Ah, the first beaching of the tournament.

Adding insult to bogey-inflicted injury, the threesome was placed on the clock on the sixth hole. With no one in front of them, they were playing slowly enough to warrant a warning from the USGA.

I wanted to feel sorry for them, but, what the heck, competitors in the U.S. Open are supposed to be the best golfers in the world. Of 9,052 entrants, only 156 made it here for the championship.

So, in my journey with the first group of the day, I saw a roughing, a shanking, a beaching, and a clocking.

Everything but a spanking, and that can’t be far behind.

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