After 25 years, Faxon reflects on Pebble Beach stop

Brad Faxon hits off the fourth tee during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on February 8, 2003 at Spyglass Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California.

AT&T National Pro-Am

Feb. 10-13

Courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links (6,816 yards, par 72), Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Shore Course (6,900 yards, par 72) and Spyglass Hill Golf Club (6,833 yards, par 72), Pebble Beach, Calif.

Purse: $6.3 million. Winner's share: $1,134,000.

Last year: Dustin Johnson became the first player in 20 years to win the tournament in consecutive years, beating David Duval and J.B. Holmes by a stroke.

Notes: Johnson tops the field along with Wilson, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and Geoff Ogilvy. ... In 2009, Johnson beat Mike Weir by four strokes in the rain-shortened tournament. Mickelson won by five strokes in 2007, matching the tournament record of 20-under 268 set by Mark O'Meara in 1997. Mickelson also won in 1998 and 2005.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Those love-at-first-sight stories so often are filled with flavor because of unforgettable footnotes.

We travel back to the 1982 U.S. Open for an example. Brad Faxon – then a 20-year-old amateur with a modest resume yet boundless confidence – surveyed the situation and put his opening 79 in perspective.

“I figured, ‘OK, if I have a good second round, I can still make the cut,’ ” Faxon said. “I knew the first six holes were important. I knew I had to get off to a good start.”

And after that pep talk he three-putted the first green for bogey.

“Walking down the second fairway, I was ripped,” Faxon said. “It was that teenage temper.”

Befitting his amateur status and blue-collar roots, Faxon had a local caddie that week – “We were two little lost souls together,” he said – but at that particular point in time he needed to be totally alone with his anguish. Only Faxon heard a voice over his shoulder.

“I was steamed, but as I’m standing in the second fairway, I heard my caddie say, ‘Do you think that blimp up there bothers Jack Nicklaus?’ ”

Faxon wavered between leaving it at a cold stare or screaming at the kid, before settling on another option. “I was so mad, I just had to laugh. Does the blimp bother Jack Nicklaus? I mean, what do I care if the blimp bothers Jack Nicklaus.”

And with that, Faxon continued on with a first date that was maddening. So ugly was the golf, yet so much in love was he with the vaunted Pebble Beach Golf Links.

It is a love affair that has never waned – not through rain or cold, slow rounds or bumpy greens, good golf or bad golf. Two other U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach are on his resume, 1992 and 2000, but mostly Faxon’s passion for this walk at the edge of the Pacific has been quenched by appearances at “the clambake.”

This year marks his 25th start at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and as much as Faxon feels blessed for each and every chance, it pains him to think that younger players don’t see the intrinsic value of this tournament. Certainly, his fears can be justified, because if you concede that the major championships pack the most prestige, what comes next are levels of importance and you could make a strong case that the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am ranks high on that list, if not at the very top.

Snicker, if you will – and certainly players who annually bypass this tournament will do just that – but then consider the fabric of this week. The PGA Tour is a massive business enterprise not because youngsters can yield titanium with uncanny success, but rather because of a corporate world that believes in the product and supports it wholeheartedly. That so many key players in that corporate world tee it up here at the AT&T is something every PGA Tour member should consider before declining his spot.

“I can pick up the phone if I ever have have a question about a business dealing or a financial question,” Faxon said, “and there are guys who will take my call because of relationships I’ve made through years at this pro-am.”

Then the 49-year-old Faxon smiled and shook his head. He recounted a conversation he had earlier this season with one of the PGA Tour’s youngest stars in which upcoming schedules were discussed. The player said he was playing everything on the West Coast, except the Bob Hope Classic and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Faxon thought it unfortunate that the young man didn’t realize the sort of connections and opportunities he was letting slip away.

“Of course,” Faxon conceded, “I didn’t think about those things when I was 22, either.”

Easy that it might be for players to get caught up in the insular world of the PGA Tour, it behooves them to broaden their perspectives. So a good year might mean $1.5 million in earnings? The amateur side of the draw here includes a healthy number of names who would consider $1.5 million a nice month’s pay, their wealth measured in billions, not millions.

Check out Forbes’ list of the top 400 richest people in America and a few of them are playing this week at Pebble Beach. As to which side of the pairings sheet they sit, here’s a hint: None of them are PGA Tour members.

But put the money aspect aside for a minute, what’s not to like about the chance to spend hours in the company of hugely successful people? Sometimes success rubs off, other times it helps open doors, and for proof ask Paul Goydos. His amateur partner in 1994 at Pebble Beach was Frank Olson, the CEO of Hertz, and that led to a handsome corporate deal for Goydos whose passion for pro-ams has deep roots.

“I grew up in Southern California and to me (the Bob Hope Classic) was the most famous golf tournament,” Goydos said. “I like playing in the pro-ams.”

Sadly, not everyone agrees, but Goydos shrugged.

“Everybody is different,” he said. “To each their own. That’s why we have 47 events.”

True, but none of them have Pebble Beach as a stage and supporting actors who are captains of industry and people who shape the world in which we live.

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