PEBBLE BEACH, CA. — Bode Miller spent his competitive sports life diving down the steep slopes of alpine ski racing – he’s an Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion.
But when he teed it up in last month’s U.S. Open Media Day at Pebble Beach he faced something perhaps as daunting – gnarled rough and narrowed fairways.
“Yeah, but, rough and narrow fairways are not as scary as wind on this layout,” Miller said. “We played yesterday and the wind was the most difficult challenge for me. It changes my tactics and I start hitting some really weird shots.”
Miller likes the long-ball tour elites like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Tony Finau for the 119th U.S. Open Championship, set for June 10-16, 2019 at Pebble Beach. Tiger Woods and other experienced pros, Miller says, should also get loads of respect.
“I’ve gotten to play a lot of historic courses back east, but when you play at Pebble Beach history is something I love to delve in to,” Miller continued. “It’s cool to look at the old photos of historic courses and on days when your game is garbage you can at least look to areas of the course where you know historic shots have been made.”
On media day golfers were offered a one iron on the par-3 17th, with hopes to recreate Jack Nicklaus’ historic 1972 U.S. Open shot that bounced off the flag stick. No one came close to a flashback, but former San Francisco Giants outfielder Cody Ross did ace the famous 7th, the 100-yard shot that may be the most beautiful in golf.
Will Pebble Beach’s 100th anniversary make history?
The legendary course on the Monterey Peninsula, which celebrates its centennial in 2019, has hosted five previous U.S. Opens, five U.S. Amateurs and two U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships. Pebble Beach will also host the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open and 2027 U.S. Open Championship.
Weather plays a dramatic part of how tournaments are played at Pebble Beach. During the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am you can mostly count on lush conditions from prevalent winter rain. But in June the purists hope for more summer baked hard and fast conditions. That might not happen this year with such a rain crazy first five months of the year.
The five U.S. Open champs at Pebble Beach are Jack Nicklaus in 1972, Tom Watson in 1982, Tom Kite in 1992, Woods in 2000 and Graeme McDowell in 2010. Notice a pattern? That’s three of the best golfers ever — Nicklaus, Woods, Watson — another Hall of Famer (Kite) and a tough competitor in McDowell.
McDowell was even par in the last one (2010) and only one player finished below par in the 2000 Open at Pebble – Tiger Woods. Tiger was inhuman, winning by 15 strokes over Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez, in the most dominating performance and victory in any major championship.
Conditions this U.S. Open
Count on lush rough and USGA officials have narrowed the fairways on several holes. Fairways now are about 30 yards wide in the landing area, compared with 45 yards for a normal AT&T.
Featured narrowed fairways include the first and No. 11, where the fairway reduction moved to the left. This is the first hole going back uphill away from the Pacific and has a tiny green with two bunkers following one another on the right. But if you hit the fairway this time it gives you a better angle for the approach to a shallow green that slopes from back to front.
And remember, this will be the first U.S. Open at Pebble with the 14th green having been reworked, taming that formerly cantankerous steep slope on the right side. This green was the culmination of a flabbergasting, uphill, 572-yard par 5.
After Paul Goydos and three other players made quadruple bogey on No. 14 in the final round of the 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Goydos said, “You’re trying to stop a pitching wedge on a moving school bus.” It looked more like a NASCAR pileup.
Also, since the 2010 competition there are new back tees at the ninth and 13th holes. Greens have also been renovated at 9, 13, and 17. Nicklaus’ one iron shot location at 17 has a teeing ground restored to the same look that Jack had that day in 1972.
Shaved areas along the Pacific boundaries at 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10 could cause angst, but officials say you have this wonderful hazard (the Pacific Ocean) and that must be incorporated. Amen. Rough “buffers” were removed to reinstate what the original golf course demanded.
119th U.S. Open most “connected” in history
This U.S. Open will be the first that has a “blanket of connectivity” throughout the golf course. Amanda Weiner, the USGA’s senior director of digital media, talked about the “first-ever connected course” and that Cisco Systems provided a Wi-Fi network where fans can download the U.S. Open app on smart phones.
The app will have an on-site map with a feature that can tell fans where they can find their favorite golfer or the nearest food, souvenirs or rest rooms. It is called “Wayfinding” and will allow users to map out a plan for viewing anywhere on the course.
Apple TV and Roku have also provided apps so fans at home have the chance to watch free, live-streaming coverage of the U.S. Open.
It’s a new connected world, but it is always great to see changes, advancements and in some cases a return to what a 100-year old golf course was meant to be.
Finally, a trivia question – who holds the course record at Pebble Beach? Not Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan, Nelson, or Tiger. Answer – Texas Tech’s Hurly Long, 11-under-par 61, in the 2017 Carmel Cup, a prestigious college golf tournament. Tom Kite and David Duval had previously shot 10-under 62s during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, although both of those rounds were played under winter rules.
Story by David R. Holland