Best of Golf 2018: Pebble Beach delivers again as U.S. Amateur host

John Augenstein plays his tee shot on the eight hole during the first round of stroke play at the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane) Chris Keane/USGA

Best of Golf 2018: Pebble Beach delivers again as U.S. Amateur host

Amateur

Best of Golf 2018: Pebble Beach delivers again as U.S. Amateur host

It’s hard to beat golf along Carmel Bay in late summer.

When championship golf returned to iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links in August for the U.S. Amateur, it didn’t disappoint. The course was in mint condition. The weather was nearly perfect sans a foggy semifinal day – but hey, that’s quintessential Monterey Peninsula conditions.

And the golf … oh, the golf.

Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hovland, a fun-loving Norwegian with a quick wit and powerful golf swing, capped an impressive week that saw him tie for the fewest holes played (102) by a U.S. Amateur champion in the current match-play format after a 6-and-5 final victory over UCLA’s Devon Bling. He led for all but 19 of those holes.

Hovland, Norway’s first U.S. Amateur winner, highlighted his run to the title with an incredible up-and-down birdie on Pebble’s short par-4 fourth. With his ball sitting atop an ice plant some 40 feet down the side of a cliff, Hovland climbed down and played the shot, hitting his ball to within a few feet of the hole.

“He’ll never forget that birdie,” said Alan Bratton, Hovland’s college coach and caddie that week.

Neither will anyone else who was there.

Several other inspiring stories played out at Pebble. Bling, ranked 297 spots worse than Hovland at No. 302 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, reached the final some five years after the unexpected death of his mother, Sara.

Incoming Texas freshman Cole Hammer continued a spectacular summer, sharing medalist honors before reaching the semifinals. Hammer also won the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball (teaming with Garrett Barber), Western Amateur and Azalea Amateur this year. Gary Nicklaus qualified, playing two rounds of stroke play with his 18-major-title dad, Jack, in the gallery.

This year’s competition welcomed both young (14-year-olds Gaven Lane and Jackson Van Paris, the latter of whom became the youngest since Bobby Jones to win a U.S. Amateur match) and old (67-year-old Paul Simson made his 15th start in the championship). Players from 24 different countries teed it up.

But there is only one Pebble Beach.

The oceanside layout originally designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant has stood the test of time since 1917. It has hosted five U.S. Opens and will see a sixth national championship played next summer. This was the fifth U.S. Amateur held at Pebble. Jack Nicklaus won his second Havemeyer Trophy at Pebble in 1961, and David Gossett in 1999 was the last man before Hovland to prevail in a U.S. Amateur at Pebble.

Pebble Beach is ranked eighth on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list, easily worth the $25 price of admission, especially considering the walk-in-the-fairway nature of U.S. Amateur match-play spectating. For many fans, it was their first time getting to see the beauty of Pebble Beach. Same for some players.

“You don’t get this every day,” Akshay Bhatia said. “I was telling my caddie and my playing competitors, it’s amazing that someone saw this in their eye and designed it. I mean, just the views and the golf course itself is just so scenic and so special.”

Overall, the USGA had another nice run with its amateur venues in 2018.

Quaker Ridge, ranked No. 32 on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list, played host to a 17-3 U.S. victory at the Curtis Cup. It was the largest margin of victory in the event’s 40-year history. And a Donald Ross classic, 90th-ranked Charlotte Country Club, was the main host for the U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Two courses ranked among the top 100 on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses list also hosted USGA amateur championships this year. Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s Spyglass Hill, co-host for the U.S. Amateur, is ranked No. 27. The
U.S. Senior Amateur was played at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, ranked
94th and co-designed by Jones Sr. and H. Chandler Egan.

The USGA’s championship lineup for amateurs continues to stand out in 2019. The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball will be played at Bandon Dunes’ two top-ranked courses, Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald, Nos. 2 and 5, respectively, on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses list.

The U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur heads to another classic Ross design, No. 92 Cedar Rapids Country Club, the U.S. Mid-Amateur will be at Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Colorado Golf Club (No. 33, Modern), and Forest Highlands Golf Club (No. 86, Modern) in Flagstaff, Ariz., will host the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. The Walker Cup will be at Royal Liverpool (No. 34, GB&I Classic).

And the U.S. Amateur, continuing a stalwart run that also includes Olympia Fields and Oakland Hills, heads to Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort’s famed No. 2
course, which is ranked 14th on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list. Stroke-play qualifying will include Gil Hanse’s recently renovated No. 4 course.

But it will be tough to top Pebble Beach.

“It’s awe-inspiring,” Hammer said of Pebble Beach. “… Standing on the sixth green and seventh tee is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve been lucky enough to play Pine Valley and Augusta, so I’d probably rank those a little bit higher than this as far as the golf course goes, but as far as a total experience goes, I don’t know if anything could beat Pebble Beach.”

Fingers crossed that the USGA doesn’t wait 19 years before bringing its premier amateur championship back to the Monterey marvel.

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


Viktor Hovland and Devon Bling in the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship final. (Chris Keane/USGA)

(Chris Keane/USGA)

Top 5 Amateur Golf Moments of 2018

5Justin Suh, Jennifer Kupcho capture McCormack medals.

4Cole Hammer collects several trophies, including U.S. Four-Ball and Western Amateur.

3Alabama puts three in U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals, with Kristen Gillman winning.

2. U.S. breaks Curtis Cup record in blowout 17-3 win at Quaker Ridge.

1. Viktor Hovland (above) rolls to U.S. Amateur victory at Pebble Beach.

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