With the U.S. Midwest and Northeast having just suffered through some of the coldest weather in decades, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is being played at the perfect time. Seeing overhead images of Stillwater Cove and watching golfers punch wedges down to the tiny seventh hole, hit mid-irons over the cliff on the eighth and rip drivers off the tee on 18 as the Pacific surf pounds the rocks is the best justification for a big, high-definition television.
This season is special because there’s a double-dose of Pebble Beach Golf Links. The U.S. Open returns in June to the storied venue where Jack Nicklaus’ 1-iron on the 17th hole Sunday in 1972 hit the flagstick before dropping an inch from the cup and sealing his win. A decade later on the same hole, Tom Watson chipped in Sunday to beat the Golden Bear. Eighteen years later, a 24-year-old Tiger Woods made history by lapping the field at the 2000 U.S. Open and winning by 15 shots in what many consider to be his most dominating performance. The last U.S. Open played at Pebble Beach was won by Graeme McDowell in 2010.
While almost everyone can agree Pebble Beach is stunningly beautiful and steeped in history, many pros avoid the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am because the rounds are notoriously long, often stretching to six hours, and playing alongside celebrities, business leaders and VIPs is not every player’s idea of a good time. Players who compete in the event year after year say it requires patience and that pros have to buy into the vibe to be successful, but what do the numbers say golfers must do to win, and can the data provide clues about June’s U.S. Open?
The chart below shows the strokes gained statistics for each of the winners of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since 2011.
As can be seen, none of the past eight winners had a strokes gained off the tee average over 1.0, and three winners gave away strokes off the tee, so being an elite driver is not essential.
Six of the past eight winners had a strokes gained around the green average below 0.5, so it also appears that having a great short game is not overly critical, either.
Where the winners tend to shine is in the fairway and on the greens. Six of the past eight winners had a strokes gained approach the green average over 1.25, and three (D.A. Points, Phil Mickelson and Vaughn Taylor) were higher than 2.0.
While Taylor and Jimmy Walker gave away strokes on the greens, five recent winners had a strokes gained putting average over 1.5.
The stats indicate that to be successful at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, golfers need to be solid from the fairway and putt well, but unfortunately those numbers only tell half the story. Two of the four rounds in this tournament — those played at Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club — are not tracked using ShotLink. As a result, strokes gained statistics from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am are based exclusively on a player’s two rounds at Pebble Beach .
This is a shortcoming that makes using statistics gathered during the West Coast Swing tricky. In addition to only tracking two of the four rounds at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, ShotLink data is not collected on the North Course at Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open or at La Quinta Country Club and the Nicklaus Tournament Course during the Desert Classic.
While the information collected at Pebble Beach in February during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is solid, it is crucial to understand the course will play very differently during the U.S. Open in June.
Barring rain, the fairways will be drier and the ball will roll out more on drives. The holes will be cut in tougher locations on the greens, because the celebrities and VIPs will not be in the field. The greens also should be much firmer, making it tougher to get approach shots to stay close to the holes.
The pros playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am will have a chance to see the tighter fairways that have been grown for the U.S. Open because fairway widths have been established, but the rough will not be nearly as high next week as it will be in June. The rounds will be long enough without making television stars and CEOs hack out of U.S. Open-style rough.
Sadly, the USGA does not provide official ShotLink-style stats, so its impossible to quantify how much tougher U.S. Open courses and greens tend to be than week-to-week PGA Tour events. On the 2010 U.S. Open’s website, the only stats available are such things as the number of eagles, birdies and greens in regulation. Things that can be easily counted were tracked, while things that required measurements, even driving distance, we not put on the public website.
Analytics can give a partial idea about what a golfer needs to do to contend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but it would be hard to use the publicly available data to get a clearer picture of what a player must do to win a U.S. Open on one of the most iconic courses in the game. Gwk