PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – I love Pebble Beach, you love Pebble Beach, the sea lions and sea gulls love Pebble Beach, Arnold Schwarzenegger loves Pebble Beach, everybody and everything loves Pebble Beach.
So here’s my suggestion to the U.S. Golf Association: After the U.S. Open comes back to Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2019, which is the 100th anniversary of this grand seaside golf course, our national championship should be played here every five years.
The USGA should learn a lesson from the R&A, which stages the British Open every five years at St. Andrews. It should do the same for Pebble Beach.
There is nothing wrong with this strategy. This is not favoritism; it is reality. St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, along with Augusta National, are the premier major-championship sites in the world.
Bottom line: The USGA and U.S. Open will gain additional exposure with a Pebble Beach five-year rotation.
OK, so USGA president Jim Hyler doesn’t like the idea. “We have a lot of great courses in this country that we want to visit – East Coast, Midwest, West Coast,” Hyler said. “In two years, we’ll be right up the road at the Olympic Club (San Francisco). So I think if you look at the rotation here, in 2010 and 2019, that’s a nice gap to come back here and still give us a chance to host our national championship on these other great courses.”
At the same time, though, USGA Championship Committee chairman Tom O’Toole said, “We would have entertained the idea of coming back sooner (than 2019), but that year has so much significance for Pebble Beach that we couldn’t refuse their request.”
Let’s be honest. The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is different. It is alluring and magical. It is a reflection of the sea, the scenery, the weather, the course, the enthusiasm of the players and fans.
I have been attending major championships since the early 1970s – including all four of the previous U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach – and the atmosphere at this year’s U.S. Open is more upbeat and cheery than I have seen at any other major.
Maybe this is because the world of golf is coming off the perpetually rainy 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, although I suspect Pebble Beach creates its own extraordinary environment.
I had never been to Pebble Beach until the 1972 U.S. Open, won by Jack Nicklaus. One day here, and I was talking to myself. “What took them so long?” was the big question.
It was the best golf tournament I had ever attended, but then it was surpassed by the 1982 U.S. Open. I was on No. 17 during the final round when Tom Watson sank that delicate little pitch shot, and the next day I hit a dozen shots from the exact same spot. Trust me, other than knocking the ball into the cup, there was no way to keep it within 10 or 12 feet of the hole. No way.
Memories such as that don’t go away. In 1992, I was standing near the seventh tee when Tom Kite sank an equally improbable birdie pitch on the seventh green. If the ball had not contacted the flagstick, it would have rolled at least a dozen feet past the cup.
The weather on that final day in 1992 was the worst I had ever seen in a major in the United States. The wind was blowing like crazy, transforming the 109-yard seventh hole from a wedge shot off the tee to a 6-, 7- or 8-iron for most players. I watched Seve Ballesteros punch a 5-iron shot into those ferocious gusts.
In 2000, Tiger Woods made a triple-bogey 7 on the third hole of the third round and still won the U.S. Open by 15 shots. For four days at Pebble Beach, Woods putted better than any golfer I had ever seen. He never seemed to miss inside 15 feet.
For the 2010 U.S. Open, subtle changes to the golf course have created an enormous amount of conversation and speculation. The holes most often discussed are Nos. 6, 9 and 10.
The cliffs along the right side of 9 and 10 are now in play more than ever before. In combination with the dramatic eighth hole with a second shot over a canyon, these three consecutive par-4 holes are Pebble’s version of Amen Corner. We could label it Crash Corner, because numerous players undoubtedly will crash and burn on those cliffs overlooking Monterey Bay.
The par-5 sixth is entirely different than it has been in the past. It has been turned into a risk-reward hole. Hitting driver off the tee can set up a birdie opportunity, but it also can bring peril into play on both sides of the fairway – bunkers on the left, Stillwater Cove on the right.
In 2000, Woods famously hit a 7-iron second shot from the right rough onto the green. Now the rough is gone. The fairway has been shifted to the right, sloping precipitously toward the water. As a result, some competitors will play it safe, making the sixth a three-shot hole.
A U.S. Open at Pebble Beach always seems to create a huge measure of excitement, and I say schedule it here every five years.
I can only imagine what Gov. Schwarzenegger, the Terminator, would say: “Bring it baaack.”