PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The fifth time is the charm. Again.
Each time Pebble Beach has hosted a U.S. Amateur, magical things seem to happen. Chalk the glow up to the setting, design, weather and two finalists whose golf over the match play portion has been spectacular.
While no one had Devon Bling making the finals, expect him to continue a magical run against Norway’s seemingly unbeatable Viktor Hovland.
In Saturday morning’s match at the nearly 100-year-old course, Bling took 65 strokes in his 1-up win over Isaiah Salinda, while Hovland was five under through 16 holes.
Yes, the fairways are resort widths and the greens are not turning those strange colors we’ve seen at June U.S. Opens. Nor is the course U.S. Open rock hard. But heavy air, difficult hole locations, greens pushing 12 on the Stimpmeter and heavy pressure are more than enough defense. But the course once labeled the most strategic in America by Jack Nicklaus has allowed two powerful and gifted players exuding remarkable touch to shine.
Huge kudos are in order to the Pebble Beach Company for again taking the U.S. Amateur as part of their once-a-decade U.S. Open hosting gig. Revenues in the prime August season have surely taken a hit, though some paying golfers were out on the course before Friday’s quarterfinals and the U.S. Amateur Challenge went out after Saturday’s early start created to fit Fox’s broadcast window.
With superintendent Chris Dalhamer having the surfaces here looking smoother and healthier than anyone can recall, Pebble Beach is wowing the players and the shrewd fans paying $25 for a chance to walk the fairways while watching future stars.
Architecturally, there is plenty to quibble with at Pebble Beach. The three remodeled greens at 13-14-17 are a mixed bag while some of the course’s shrunken greens and aging bunkers look dated as more elite designs around the country restore dynamic original design features. But for the players this week, playing a U.S. Amateur here has been a once in a lifetime experience, forever changing their perspective on what constitutes great golf. In return, they’ve played crisp, clean, high-caliber golf.
“You don’t really appreciate it as much until you’re out here playing it,” Salinda said after a gut-wrenching loss where he would have posted 66 in stroke play. “I hadn’t played it before this week, and I’m just super, super lucky to have gotten this far and been able to play at this course. Because it’s by far one of the best courses I’ve played.”
For Bling, who grew up on a military course in little-known Ridgecrest, Calif., and far away from anything even half as good as Pebble Beach, he’s found America’s most famous course to have lived up to the billing.
“Even before I started playing when I got here, it was like, wow, this is crazy, just being here, knowing that the U.S. Open was here and Jack was here and everything else, it’s just unbelievable.”