Commentary

Players need to use selective memory

Originally Published: February 11, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- For those who come to the Monterey Peninsula to play golf, it is imperative that you take in the surroundings, no matter how far off line the shots are flying, no matter how few putts are dropping.

"If you can't enjoy the view, you're probably thinking about your golf too much," said Luke Donald, playing at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time in three years. "You have to tune off sometimes between shots, and nothing better than looking out to the ocean and seeing the great views."

[+] EnlargeErnie Els
David Cannon /AllsportIn the record books, it'll go down as a tie for second place in a major championship. Still, Ernie Els was 15 shots back of 2000 U.S. Open winner Tiger Woods the last time the national championship was held on the fabled seaside links.

No doubt, Donald took in the sights Thursday in his opening round at Pebble Beach. But he also had his eye on the future.

The 110th U.S. Open will be played here at Pebble Beach Golf Links in June, and Donald is among several who added this week's tournament to their schedule in anticipation of the major championship's return to this historic venue.

It will be Pebble's fifth Open, its first since Tiger Woods' 15-shot victory in 2000.

Sergio Garcia is making his first appearance since 2001. Adam Scott is playing here for the first time, not even having been a pro in 2000. A handful of other players who normally would take a pass on Pebble Beach are playing this week because of the event's positioning on the schedule or the coming U.S. Open.

"Every time you come here, you learn something about the course," said PGA Tour veteran Brad Faxon, who is playing in the tournament this week and will work the U.S. Open as an analyst for NBC. "And especially since the last U.S. Open, there's been changes on a lot of the holes.

"Certainly the conditions will be very different in June, I would hope, and you'll see a lot more rough."

Still, the AT&T has lured just seven of the top 30 players in the world rankings. Steve Stricker, who won last week at the Northern Trust Open, decided to skip this event despite the Open coming. Ernie Els, who has not played the course since 2000, also is not here.

Several factors are in play. The Monterey Peninsula is much different in June than in February, for example. The weather is cool and damp now, but it is expected to be dry in the summer.

The pro-am format of the tournament also means the course is set up in rather benign fashion, especially when compared with the sometimes nasty setups employed by the United States Golf Association.

Also, players will get only two of the four tournament rounds at Pebble Beach, with others being played at nearby Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

"The course is probably not going to play the same, unless we get one of those weeks when it rains a lot," Garcia said. "But the looks and some of the shots are still the same. So you do get a feel. You get a feel of how the wind is playing. … It can be a lot firmer in June, [but] there's definitely some things that you can take away from it."

This is just the 10th time since 1936 that a major championship will be played at a venue hosting a PGA Tour event in the same year. It's the sixth such occasion for Pebble Beach.

The venue has hosted four very memorable Opens, with Jack Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Kite (1992) and Woods (2000) the winners. Lanny Wadkins won the PGA Championship here in 1977.

The only other courses to host a tour event and a major in the same year were Pinehurst No. 2 in 1936 (North & South Open, PGA Championship); Riviera Country Club in 1948 (Los Angeles Open, U.S. Open); Riviera in 1995 (Nissan Open, PGA Championship); and Torrey Pines in 2008 (Buick Invitational, U.S. Open.)

Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions, will arrive at Pebble Beach on Saturday to gauge player feedback and check on some of the numerous changes that have been made to the course.

Since the 2000 Open, four greens, 16 bunkers and 11 tees have been altered or moved. The length has been extended from 6,846 yards to 7,040. For the Open, par will be 71 instead of 72, with the par-5 second hole being converted to a par-4.

"All of the Opens are exciting in their own way, but there is just something about being on the ocean at Pebble Beach," Davis said. "It's just magical. And there is something about being out west in June. Almost anywhere else in the country, you might get lucky and get good weather. Look at Bethpage [last year]. It just rained so much that the golf course never played the way it can play.

"At Pebble Beach, it's not a matter of being dry. It's a matter of how much wind will you get. It's hard to find a prettier course in the country. And then you look at the four previous Opens at Pebble, there is always some drama. Even in 2000, you almost couldn't believe what you were watching."

Woods finished 12 shots under par. The next best score was 3 over.

Davis typically reminds us that only Woods had his way with the place. Still, changes were made to strengthen the layout, including bringing the ocean more into play on several holes -- as was the intention when the course was designed nearly 100 years ago.

The par-5 sixth offers a good example. If tee shots stray too far to the right, they could hop over the cliff and into the cove. Fairways at the par-4 eighth and ninth holes also have been pinched closer to the ocean cliffs, with fairways tightened throughout.

"The U.S. Open setups are always so difficult because of firmness and rough," Faxon said. "Those are two things we don't see this week. I don't think we really ever hit a shot out of the rough this week where it's a penal shot. It's never really a pitchout.

"And it's kind of a paradise for a guy who can whale away and know that when it lands, it's not going anywhere. I don't think that's the case come June."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com