Iconic Pebble Beach ready for another shining moment at U.S. Amateur

PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 07: A scenic view of the seventh hole is seen during practice of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links, on February 7, 2018 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Ryan Young/PGA TOUR) Ryan Young/PGA Tour

Iconic Pebble Beach ready for another shining moment at U.S. Amateur

Golf Life

Iconic Pebble Beach ready for another shining moment at U.S. Amateur

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Lights. Camera. Action.

Pebble Beach Golf Links is prepped for another U.S. Golf Association closeup, as the iconic Jack Neville and Douglas S. Grant design hosts its fifth U.S. Amateur – its first since 1999 – and 12th USGA event overall.

In 1929, Pebble Beach played host to Bobby Jones’ first-round upset loss to Johnny Goodman and Harrison R. Johnston’s victory over Dr. O.F. Willing in the final. Eighteen years later, Pebble was again the stage as Robert H. Riegel topped John W. Dawson for the Havemeyer Trophy. Jack Nicklaus won his second U.S. Amateur title at Pebble in 1961, and most recently it was David Gossett routing South Korea’s Sung Yoon Kim 9 and 8 in a match that finished along the Pacific Ocean on Pebble’s 10th green.

Add to that five U.S. Opens on the stunning seaside layout, including the 1982 championship won by Tom Watson and 2000 edition captured by Tiger Woods.

“There is just a history and an aura that surrounds the golf course, and whenever you’re walking out there it is a very surreal feeling,” said SMU sophomore Noah Goodwin, who played 18 holes at Pebble Beach as part of a USGA preview event July 9.

“It makes you stop and think about all of the players who have competed here.”

On Aug. 13-19, Goodwin will be among the 312 players looking to add their names to the list of U.S. Amateur champions at Pebble Beach, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year by hosting the 2019 U.S. Open.

Along with Goodwin, last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur champion, the field is expected to include nearly all of the world’s top 50 amateurs (43 as of now, with a second top-50 cutoff set for Aug. 8), including top-ranked Braden Thornberry of Ole Miss, No. 2 Justin Suh of USC and No. 3 Collin Morikawa of Cal. A strong international contingent is highlighted by No. 4 Viktor Hovland of Norway, No. 5 Matthew Jordan of England and No. 8 Min Woo Lee of Australia.

But the biggest star in attendance arguably will be the golf course itself. Pebble Beach, ranked eighth on Golfweek’s Best list of classic courses, continues an impressive run of host venues for the U.S. Amateur, following Riviera (2017), Oakland Hills (2016) and Olympia Fields (2015). Pinehurst No. 2 will host next year’s championship, and Bandon Dunes is slated for 2020.

Jack Nicklaus of Columbus, Ohio, knocks a short putt into the hole for a par 4 on Pebble Beach’s eighth hole during his third round conquest of Dan James of Millbrae, Calif., in the National Amateur, Sept. 13, 1961. In background atop cliff is the succeeding twosome. Second shot on the hole requires a long iron across a cove of the Pacific Ocean to a small, heavily-trapped green. (AP Photo)

Pebble Beach, which shares stroke-play qualifying duties with Spyglass Hill, figures to be quite the test. Firm and fast conditions. Small greens running between 12 and 13 on the Stimpmeter. Rough starting at 2¾ inches and growing as the week progresses. A demanding walk that players, if they reach the final, will endure eight times, not including practice rounds.

“It can wear on you,” said U.S. Amateur tournament director Ben Kimball, who spent six hours walking and playing Pebble Beach during the USGA preview event. “You get so wrapped up into the setting, you forget that it’s one heck of a test of golf. … It never really lets up on you.”

Added Gossett, who shot an opening 80 at Pebble Beach the year of his 1999 victory: “I remember the greens were so firm and the rough was so thick.”

One thing that makes Pebble Beach such an intriguing match-play golf course is the options it gives Kimball and his staff, especially off the tee, as there is the potential to make several holes short or drivable par-4s.

The most likely candidate, No. 4, can be moved up from its listed 331 yards. So can the 404-yard third hole. A new tee box, which seemingly sits in the middle of the Pacific, shortens the 495-yard 10th hole to 373 yards and is expected to be used for match play.

The par-3 fifth also has a shorter, alternate tee box that borders the water.

“The flexibility in teeing grounds allows us to introduce enough elements of surprise to keep players on their toes, and that’s what I think makes Pebble such a wonderful match-play venue,” Kimball said.

Kimball said the biggest challenge for the setup team – as it is with most championships – will be controlling the speed of Pebble’s small and quick greens. Some greens, such as the eighth and 11th, likely will provide less than 8 square feet of usable hole locations during the seven-day event.

“Once you get up to a certain speed, you start to lose hole locations,” Kimball said.

Amateur golfer Bobby Jones of Atlanta, Ga., follows through on his swing at the start of a nine-hole practice round, and his first ever shot in the Pacific coast, at Lakeside Country Club in Los Angeles, Ca., Aug. 22, 1929. (AP Photo)

Another focus will be keeping the integrity of the course.

“We try and pull out as much as we can while keeping the original intent of
the architect intact,” Kimball said. “We don’t want anything to look like it was forced. Pebble most notably is known for stroke-play competitions, so a lot of what you’ll see is very similar. But there will be some elements of surprise.”

The champion also likely will be a surprise. Last year, Clemson’s Doc Redman defeated Texas’ Doug Ghim at Riviera as the 62nd match-play seed. Other surprise champions in recent years include Chattanooga’s Steven Fox (2012) and San Diego State’s Gunn Yang (2014).

The Havemeyer Trophy is considered one of the hardest trophies to win in golf. Tiger Woods, a three-time U.S. Amateur champion, likened the matches leading up to the 36-hole final to an “18-hole boat race.”

“You’re going to have to play grind-it-out golf,” Redman said. “There are just so many good matchplay players out there.”

But there is only one Pebble Beach.

One would be hard-pressed to find many better stages for the country’s most prestigious amateur championship. And for seven days in August, the golf world will get an up-close-and-personal look at Pebble Beach.

No grandstands. No pro-am setup. Just great golf and a course to match.

Get the cameras ready.

(Note: This story appears in the August 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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