On to Los Angeles: Pebble performance earns Rob Oppenheim start at Riviera

On to Los Angeles: Pebble performance earns Rob Oppenheim start at Riviera

PGA Tour

On to Los Angeles: Pebble performance earns Rob Oppenheim start at Riviera

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It’s a good thing that Rob Oppenheim’s everyday life outside the gallery ropes is very drama-free. On the golf course, he cannot get away from being a man trying to balance on a perpetual bubble.

It happened again on Sunday at Pebble Beach in the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Oppenheim, 37, who was playing on a sponsor exemption, needed a top-10 finish to earn a start at this week’s Genesis Open at Riviera. And for most of the day at Pebble, he was cruising along and solidly inside the top 10.

Then he missed the green at the par-3 12th and made bogey, followed soon after by three-putt bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15. He was sliding fast. He made the walk down one of the most famous settings in golf – the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Links – watching the giant leaderboard and believing that he needed a par to seal a berth at Riviera.

Finish outside the top 10, and a different tournament awaited: a Web.com Tour stop with a fraction of the Genesis purse in Panama. The former is offering $7 million, the latter a total purse of $625,000.

Adding to the drama – yes, always the drama – was that Oppenheim’s third shot at 18 came to rest behind a root some 30 yards from the green. He thought about pitching out sideways, and trying to make 6 with the hopes that it would be good enough. Then he boldly took aim at the flagstick and went for the shot. He grabbed his 60 degree wedge, nipped the shot perfectly, and his ball came to rest 10 feet behind the hole. Oppenheim then buried the pressure putt, shooting 72 and tying for eighth. He’d earned a spot to play one of golf’s greatest courses – historic Riviera.

In the end, he’d have a shot to spare – bogey still would have done the trick –  but in real time, he had no way of knowing that. Besides, making par and tying for eighth (delivering $216,000) made him feel much, much better.

“To have a 10-footer, and to make it, thinking that was probably to get into L.A. next week, it was pretty exciting to keep it going,” Oppenheim said. “Having things like that (happen) is nice, to store in the memory bank, you know. You can look back and say, I did have a putt on the 18th green at Pebble Beach that meant something, and to make it always feels good.”

Just how good was that closing 5 at No. 18? Well, his pro-am partner, Bill Perocchi – who happens to be the CEO of Pebble Beach Company – called it “all-world.” And Oppenheim quickly placed it atop his list of the greatest up-and-downs he has ever pulled off.

The best part was that Oppenheim’s great finish was the icing on a week that he’d already ranked as perhaps the best in his life, and certainly his career. He knew weeks before the AT&T not only that he’d be getting a coveted sponsor exemption to play, but that he’d be competing in the same foursome as the coach of his beloved New England Patriots, Bill Belichick. As soon as he learned that, Oppenheim felt the calling to get to Houston to watch Super Bowl LI.

He checked that off his bucket list.

Last Sunday, the native New Englander who now lives outside Orlando, Fla., with his wife, Lacey, and two children, watched the Patriots rebound from a 28-3 deficit to win their fifth Super Bowl, scoring 31 unanswered points to win, 34-28. Four days later, he was playing with the winning coach, picking his brain about key plays and moments in what may go down as the best Super Bowl in history.

“I think he’s a way more enjoyable guy than he lets off,” Oppenheim said of Belichick. “He’s fun to be around. And then talking about the Super Bowl … who gets to do that, watch the game and then talk to him about it?

“He’s just a no-nonsense, tough guy. I was out there wanting to play good golf for him. You could see why players want to play hard for him.”

Jim Oppenheim, Rob’s dad, joined his son at Pebble for the week, and told him that if the Pats could come back from 28-3, there was no reason he couldn’t come back on the weekend and win. Rob certainly didn’t lack for support and well-wishers.

Oppenheim became a PGA Tour rookie at age 35, making the grade by a grand total of $102 at the 2015 Web.com Tour Finals. He made 21 starts on the PGA Tour in 2015-16, finishing 158th in FedEx Cup points, losing his card. So last autumn, he found himself on the other side of the razor-thin line of Tour status.

He ranked 26th heading into the final Web.com Tour Finals event, where the top 25 players were set to earn cards. He sat only $392 from the 25th spot. That’s one putt, here or there. But he never got to tee it up; the final event was canceled with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on Jacksonville.

Oppenheim says he doesn’t mind the tumultuous highs and lows of the game he plays. Yes, he’d have been disappointed not to finish in the top 10 at Pebble, but had he not, he’d have been on a plane bound for Panama. That’s what golfers do.

“That’s what’s great about golf,” he said. “I missed my card, but I got an opportunity this week, and I’m going to get an opportunity next week. That’s what’s great about this sport … if you shoot the scores, you can do it.”

Perocchi, Oppenheim’s pro-am partner, is in charge of Pebble’s day-to-day operations, but was playing in the AT&T for the first time. As a bonus, he and Oppenheim made the amateur cut and played together one more time on Sunday. Perocchi, who grew up one town over from the Oppenheims in Massachusetts (Perocchi is from Lawrence, the Oppenheims from Andover), moved out to Monterey in 1999. The U.S. Amateur was played at Pebble that summer. That’s when he first met Rob and his family.

“No one has anything but great things to say about Rob,” Perocchi said as he exited the final green, and before changing into a black blazer to hand Jordan Spieth the champion’s trophy. “Rob is a great kid, the type of kid you want to root for. Look what he did this week. Hopefully that putt he just made on 18 was enough to get him into the top 10 and get him to L.A. next week. He really deserves it.”

In the end, Oppenheim got done what he needed to do to earn another prime PGA Tour start. He never before had set eyes on Riviera, and was really looking forward to it, a rainy forecast notwithstanding.

First, though, there was a flight to Panama that he needed to cancel. Yes, in pure Belichick parlance, Oppenheim was on to L.A.

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