PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Numbers tell a story. On the one hand, in 77 tournaments combined on the PGA and Web.com tours across three-plus seasons, Jim Renner had earned $661,111. On the other hand, in one tournament last week, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Renner earned $580,800.
So, which story do you read? The one that makes you focus on the first set of numbers and wonder, “Where did this kid come from?” Or the one that instructor Adam Schriber favors, the focus on the latter numbers that lead him to suggest, “This kid is ready to make the next jump.”
Indeed, Renner’s charge into the PGA Tour spotlight Sunday – he was a Jimmy Walker bogey at 18 away from getting into a three-way playoff – had folks rushing to the media guide. “Who is this kid?” could be heard from Cannery Row to Ocean Avenue in Carmel and ports beyond, because nothing on Renner’s pro resume had hinted at this sort of thing.
Ah, but everything in his makeup did, so as Renner stood in the cold, damp wind behind the 18th green – waiting to see if he’d be in a playoff or fall one shy – there was a chance to recall the words he had spoken just two days earlier. Having backed up a 65 at Monterey Peninsula with a 73 at Pebble Beach, Renner was a surprise name near the top of the leaderboard, but given the chance to bemoan the lack of playing opportunities for those like him off of the Web.com Tour priority list, he took ownership of his predicament.
“If you don’t play well, you’re going to go down the totem pole,” Renner said. “You play well, you move right up it. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got to play well early.”
And Renner clearly hadn’t, as missed-cuts in his first four tournaments of 2013-14 could attest. He could have offered excuses, but it’s not Renner’s style. Instead, he embraced the situation that he had created. He almost had to play well,” Schriber said, or “he wouldn’t have been playing much the next few months.”
Renner conceded after Round 2 that he knew what was on the line, saying, “A lot of people know that this is the week guys like me have to play well.”
When Renner held serve in brutal conditions Saturday at Spyglass Hill, an even-par 72, then closed with a sterling 67 at Pebble Beach, he was in position to possibly get into a playoff. That Walker held on for his third Tour victory stole the headlines; that Renner secured a share of second with Dustin Johnson, a massive check, and all but assured himself of great playing opportunities was an intriguing subplot.
Surprise story? To many, yes, but not to Schriber. “He has kick-ass talent,” said the veteran swing coach who began working with Renner, 30, a year ago.
Good enough coming out of high school in Massachusetts to warrant a scholarship offer to the University of Oklahoma, Renner never felt comfortable on such a big stage and wound up at Johnson & Wales in North Miami, where a friendly connection from New England – Dave Adamonis Sr. – had put together a nice program.
Renner graduated in 2007 and over the next two summers he nearly made a clean sweep of the New England opens, winning the Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine titles. While he fared decently with the mini-tour stuff, getting through PGA Tour Q-School proved to be another matter. It wasn’t until he was 27 that he made it onto the PGA Tour, and while there were a few highlights, mostly there were bumps. Then came the death of his hero and biggest fan, his father John “Buck” Renner, in August 2012, and it’s safe to say that Renner’s focus took a hit.
In nine tournaments after the death of his father, Renner made just two cuts, and he carried some of the troubles into 2013. Enter Schriber, whom Renner had known but hadn’t worked with.
Schriber opened Renner’s eyes, then challenged him with what the instructor said was the truth. “He was lazy. I don’t sugar-coat it. Right or wrong, I say what feel,” Schriber said.
“Jim’s an incredible talent. He wasn’t a project like some guys. Jim was simple. We introduced him to Athletes’ Performance and showed him how better nutrition, better fitness and better mobility would help him. There’s not much athletically that he couldn’t do; I just think golf was easy for him.”
Clearly, Renner didn’t mind Schriber’s bluntness. It ignited a sense of honesty within himself, and Renner knew deep down that he had better talent than his results had shown: 59th on the Web.com Tour money list in 2012 and 27th last year. Coming into this PGA Tour season on the strength of a 44th-place finish on the Web.com Tour priority list was nothing he took great pride in, so Renner worked with Schriber to improve different parts of his game.
The first order of business? The gentle left-to-right shot, the fade.
“It opens things up for you. You manage a golf course better, and you won’t short-side yourself as much,” Schriber said. “He can hit it – they can all hit it – but Jim would never hit it when I watched him. He had zero confidence in it.”
That Renner has worked to a point where he is confident enough to call upon the fade was demonstrated by his chase for victory at Pebble Beach. That he birdied the 15th, made solid pars at 16 and 17, then calmly birdied the 18th with the pressure on demonstrated that he had in some ways passed another litmus test thrown his way by Schriber.
Again, the man doesn’t sugar-coat it, so one day Schriber decided to “test the waters,” and he said to Renner, “Will you be able to play near the front, to contend, or are you going to be (afraid)?”
Before that day, Schriber’s assessment was simple. “Jim’s a little too nice and definitely a little lazy,” he said, “but after I said that to him, his response convinced me that this kid cares a lot more than people think.”
In the closing holes Sunday, Renner embraced where he was – in the hunt and at arguably the most iconic course in the country. He had changed all the shafts in his irons and woods a week earlier, and for added comfort, Renner had asked a friend to ship to him the Piretti putter that he favored, but inexplicably took out of the bag. Mostly, though, he took Schriber’s challenge to heart and welcomed the pressure of the moment.
“In all honesty,” Renner said, “I hadn’t played that great (this year), so I was enjoying playing good golf, hitting it where I wanted to, and doing what I wanted.”
To a point, that is, because he wanted to win, and that didn’t happen. Yet, Renner stood with his mother, Jane, and his aunt, Ellen Renner, and no doubt he thought of his father, who had come to watch his son play at the 2011 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
He had come close. Even better, he expects to go even further.
• • •
NEW FACES, FAMILIAR PLACES: Much has changed on the PGA Tour landscape since Dudley Hart was last out on a weekly basis. For instance, the younger faces who filled the player dining tent at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
“Honestly, I didn’t know two-thirds of them,” said Hart, 45, with a laugh. “Maybe that’s why they put me with Joe Durant the first few days. He’s one of the few I know.”
Hart wore a smile, which is a good thing, because for the past few years that simple task has been difficult. When you’ve got serious back issues and you’re unable to take part in the thing that you do for a living, well, that’s not a good thing, yet it was Hart’s world.
At Pebble Beach, Hart was playing for just the second time this year (he missed the cut at the Humana Challenge) and for the third time since 2010. Between the two back surgeries and his wife’s cancer, Hart has had enough off-course realities to cause him to put things in perspective.
He sat out all of 2013, played in only the AT&T in 2012, and was sidelined for 2010-11. His status for 2013-14 is the major medical extension category. Factoring in the $29,139 that he made at Pebble Beach, Hart has 10 tournaments left to earn $475,145 to maintain full status.
It’s a big challenge, but the bigger picture is, he’s not only walking and playing, he’s doing it pain-free.
“It’s good,” said Hart, when asked about his back after the fourth round of the AT&T. “We all have our little issues, but I just have to go about doing my (exercises) every morning before I play and at night. I have to limit my practice and how much I play, but I held up OK.”
All of which beats what was going through his mind in 2011, ’12 and all of last year, which was mostly spent driving his kids to their sporting games. “Did I have doubts? For sure, I did. I definitely had that question (about playing again). But after the second surgery, I felt that much more comfortable, more than I did after the first surgery.”
Hart said that some screws became misplaced with the first spinal fusion, that when he tried to come back at the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, it just didn’t feel right. After months of discussions, Hart opted to have a second fusion, with the biggest reason to clean up those screws.
“When screws get in the vertebrae instead of the muscles, it apparently helps your cause a little bit.”
Hart spent six months last year just building stamina, doing a lot of walking. Late in the year he could start swinging a club, then he started playing a little. So it would stand to reason that making the cut at the AT&T was a big step forward, right?
“I wouldn’t say it’s rewarding,” Hart said. “I’ve played for so long, I look beyond that. Maybe I should temper my expectations, but I’ve always been pretty tough on myself. I expect a lot.”
Then he paused, as if remembering that he is 45 and years removed from his two Tour victories (1996 Honda, 2000 Canadian Open) and that it was only his third tournament since the end of 2009.
“It was good to get a full week in,” he said, “in cool weather, no less. The back is pretty good. A little stiff, but nothing bad, and that’s probably the best thing I can take out of this week.”
Hart is skipping this week’s Northern Trust Open, but he intends to return to play in two weeks at the Honda Classic, then the Valspar Championship outside of Tampa, and maybe two in Texas, the Valero and the Shell Houston Open. Beyond the back, which feels good, Hart reports that his wife is doing well, that her yearly check-ups have been good news.
“I feel like I’m 55 some days,” he said. “But I’m OK.”
• • •
PEBBLE MEMORIES: Stuart Appleby has sort of rekindled a fondness of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, though he doesn’t deny that his first two visits here (1996 and 1999) left him bewildered. The tournament was washed out after two rounds in ’96, and in ’99 Appleby barely made the cut, then showed up at his assigned tee time for Round 4, paired with Tiger Woods and John Maginnes.
He remembers the weather being so bad, yet each hit a tee shot off of their first hole, the par-4 10th, and subsequently were told that play was being halted. It never resumed, so Payne Stewart was declared the 54-hole winner, while Appleby finished in a share of 53rd with Maginnes and Woods.
Is Appleby’s memory correct, about Maginnes being well left, up into the ice plants? Now a member of the radio team that broadcasts PGA Tour events, Maginnes was at Pebble Beach this year and confirmed that the Aussie has it right. But it’s not Maginnes’ favorite weather memory of this tournament; instead, he favors what happened one year while playing the 10th hole alongside Tommy Nakajima. In horrendous weather and into the teeth of a howling wind, Maginnes said he found the fairway at 10, but had no chance to reach in two. So he hit.
When Nakajima, who had helped his amateur locate a ball right of the fairway, discovered that Maginnes had gone and hit his second shot he was surprised. “But they’re still on the green,” Nakajima said. Maginnes told him that he knew that, but he hit a great second shot and “I’m still 50 yards short of the green.”
With that, Nakajima shook his head and said, “What the (expletive) am I doing here?”
Indeed, the par-4 10th, which played to 446 yards this year, is not exactly where you want to be when it’s cold and the wind is into you. But that’s where Briny Baird was Thursday morning in a steady rain. His drive was measured at 208 and then came a 3-wood, both shots, he told a PGA Tour official, being well struck. Yet Baird was 55 yards short of the green.
• • •
MAINTAINING HIS PASSION: At 42 and with a few pedestrian years behind him, Appleby insists he’s as fired up as ever about the game.
“I remember when I was a young gun, (but) the game tastes different when you get older,” he said. “I want to compete; I want to play. It’s easy just to play golf, but to play golf on the PGA Tour is a whole other thing.”
The most recent of his nine PGA Tour wins came in 2010, but he insists he has the desire to continue to work hard. What keeps him going?
“The chase, the elusive, almost-at-your-finger-tips next level of golf. It’s just there, within arm’s reach,” he said. “Sometimes you can reach it and grab at it; other times it’s a couple steps (away). It feels like it’s always there, the next rung on the ladder. Golf gives you so many opportunities to do that, like no other sport. It’s a great game.”
• • •
CRAZY FOR KANE: Robert Garrigus is sporting a Chicago Blackhawks logo on his golf bag these days, with “Kane 88” emblazoned on it. It recognizes Patrick Kane, Chicago’s brilliant 25-year-old right winger, arguably one of the premier scorers in the NHL.
Clearly a Blackhawks fan despite having grown up in Oregon, Garrigus said he wanted to have Kane and Chicago’s other electrifying scorer, Jonathan Toews, on the bag, but the same just one.
“I don’t know if people have seen the You Tube stick-handling video (by Kane),” Garrigus said. “It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s a special player, one of my favorites. He’s young and crazy and fiery.”
• • •
FORMAT FITS HIM: Count Garrigus among the many fans of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “I just enjoy meeting all these people who make it happen for us out here,” he said.
“I met Chuck Schwab, and I’ve met a few billionaires and they’re good people to know. You never know when you’re going to strike up a friendship or a future sponsorship. It’s more of a blessing to meet these people (than a burden to play three days).”
• • •
PEPPERDINE, TIMES TWO: When Jason Gore shot 65 and Jason Allred had 66 at a Monday qualifier to earn two of the four spots into the Northern Trust Open, it was a local story with different twists. Gore, 39, and Allred, 33, both went to Pepperdine, not far from Riviera, but while the former will be playing for the eighth time in the Northern Trust, Allred will be getting his first opportunity.
It’s a true home game for Gore, as he lives perhaps 30 miles from famed Riviera Country Club, but neither he nor Allred has PGA Tour status this season. Allred, in fact, hasn’t played in a PGA Tour event since finishing T-47 in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Gore did get into the Frys.com Open to start the 2013-14 season (he was T-26), but his status this year is on the Web.com Tour.
• • •
SEASON-OPENER: Speaking of the Web.com Tour, its season gets underway this week with the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship, and sprinkled into the field are some veterans who remain committed to regaining PGA Tour status. Among them: Rod Pampling, Todd Hamilton, Nick O’Hern, Jesper Parnevik, Billy Mayfair, Peter Lonard, Ted Purdy, Casey Wittenberg and Brett Wetterich.
Pampling missed the cut at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, his first PGA Tour start since Wyndham last August, but he’s not the only one making the trip from California to Colombia. Alex Cejka and Ben Kohles, both T-56 at Pebble Beach, are in Colombia. Dicky Pride is there, too, after having finished joint 35th at Pebble. Justin Thomas and Andrew Svoboda also played Pebble and are on the Web.com Tour stage this week.
Also in the Colombia field: Len Mattiace, though a piece of his heart might be at the Northern Trust Open, site of his first PGA Tour victory, 12 years ago.
• • •
REMEMBER HIM? It was a small note to the festivities at Pebble Beach, but David Duval was in a share of 35th, his best finish since a T-9 at Riviera in 2011. Duval has now made six cuts in 29 starts dating to 2012.
• • •
WET, YES, BUT STILL DRY: Had you tuned in to the AT&T Pebble Beach action and watched golfers bundled up in rainsuits and playing four days of lift, clean and place, you’d probably scoff at the notion that there was so much talk of a drought in California.
But fact is, there still is. The rain they received over the four days hardly dents the state’s water crisis. In fact, there was evidence of it all over the famed layout – noticeably, the hill to the left of the sixth fairway. Normally that is gnarly rough, but when officials had to turn off the irrigation there, that area burned out.
Aesthetically pleasing? Perhaps not, but players sure loved it. With the fairway sopping wet, some players – especially the shorter ones – aimed left so that balls could roll more favorably than in the wetter, softer areas.
• • •
COMPARING NUMBERS: It’s not often that those back-nine par 5s at Pebble Beach – the 14th and 18th – play similarly, but that was the case this year. Normally, the 573-yard 14th is considerably tougher than the 543-yard 18th, but at least for the first three days, the wind was hurting at 18 and helping at 14.
The numbers reflected it, too. While the 18th played second-easiest, at a field average of 4.876, the 14th was about the same; it played third-easiest, at 4.881.
The easiest, no surprise, was the par-5 second (4.482).
Per usual, the 446-yard, par-4 10th was a beast, with a field average of 4.463 to rank toughest. It yielded the fewest birdies, eight, but most telling were the number of double bogeys, 15, which was five more than the next hole in this category.
• • •
GOING LOW AT PEBBLE: Dustin Johnson certainly provided more fodder for the case that Pebble Beach Golf Links sets up nicely for him. He has won the AT&T Pro-Am twice, of course, and there was the 2010 U.S. Open that he led through 54 holes. This year, Johnson shot 70-66 in the final two rounds at Pebble, which was five strokes better than the eventual winner, Jimmy Walker (67-74).
(Walker dominated Spyglass and Monterey Peninsula, going 7 under for those 36 holes, as opposed to Johnson’s 2 under.)
But if you’re thinking Johnson was unmatched at Pebble, think again. Victor Dubuisson of France shot 67 Friday and 69 Sunday to match the American at 8 under.
Next best after Johnson and Dubuisson was Graeme McDowell (72-67, or 5 under), which sort of validates the Northern Irishman’s U.S. Open victory there in 2010, eh?
• • •
GARNER’S BLAST FROM PAST: Ben Garner may have melted into the scenery as just one of more than 300 caddies used for the first three days of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but his connection to golf has some substance. In the AJGA record books, Garner’s seven career victories is surpassed by only five players, three of whom are named Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Charles Howell.
Had Garner at one time envisioned himself a future participant in this Pebble Beach show, he had good reason, given his golf talent. But after LSU, Garner’s chase of pro golf never materialized for a litany of reasons. “Bad injuries, a serious case of the yips, then I got in a car accident that kept me out of golf for three years,” he said.
Yet Garner said things have worked out beautifully. He sells real estate on the Big Island of Hawaii and plays golf at Kuki’O Golf and Beach Club. That’s where he befriended surfing icon Kelly Slater, who recruited Garner to be his caddie in this annual AT&T tournament.
“I’ve been friends with Kelly for 16 years,” said Garner, 37. “I’ve caddied for him in this event for four years, and it’s a blast.”