AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Course Insight

The PGA Tour circles back to California this week for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Monterey Peninsula. Get ready to see a star-studded field of celebrities, playful pooches romping off-leash along the cobalt Pacific coastline, and ocean-carved rock formations that resemble massive Gothic cathedrals.

A three-course rotation will be in play again, with a starting field of 156 players and 156 amateurs paired in two-man teams for the first three days on Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Monterey Peninsula Shore Course. On the final day, the low 60 players and ties return to Pebble Beach for the final round. All three courses feature poa annua greens, so expect to see more than a few missed six-footers

As always, play on the Pebble Beach course will receive the most television coverage throughout the event, with magnificent and astonishing landscapes that ultimately elevate the entire sport to a place of iconic majesty. That is, until we see the befuddling swing of Chris Berman for the first time. Other megastars joining Berman in the field include Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake, Bill Belichick, Wayne Gretzky, and Peyton Manning.

Players will have to contend with the circus-like atmosphere that comes along with playing with these big-name celebrities, and with rounds that could take upwards of six hours it’s no wonder there’s a growing venom among golf purists for the celebrity aspect of this event.

The biggest concern could turn out to be Mother Nature. Strong rain and winds are in the forecast for the first two days, and the only saving grace to inevitably slower and sloppier play might be watching Berman go rumbling, bumbling, stumbling over one of the picturesque cliffs (kidding, not kidding).

Winds will be more pronounced on the Pebble Beach and Monterey courses, which both hug the Pacific, with Spyglass better protected by its pine and cypress trees. If you’re looking to target good wet weather players, Jim Furyk Tony Finau, Justin Rose, and Justin Thomas are the best in the field. While Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Rose play the best in windy conditions.

Monterey Peninsula Shore Course

Monterey is the easiest of the three courses with the largest fairways and greens, and checks in at a par 71, 6,867 yards. It’s a rugged, links-style design with enormous sand dunes that cascade across firm, rolling fairways, and features five par-3s and four par-5s. Most tee shots are forgiving, but the course still requires players stay out of the waste areas for any realistic hopes of precise shots into the greens.

Last year, No.13 played as the easiest hole (47 birdies and 13 bogeys or worse), while No. 8 played as the most difficult (10 birdies and 52 bogeys or worse). No. 8 is the second-longest par-4 on the course, and doglegs left off the tee with an approach that plays straight into the Pacific. Wind is definitely a factor here, and choosing the wrong club all but guarantees a bogey.

Spyglass Hill Golf Course

On the other end of the spectrum, Spyglass plays as the most difficult of the three courses. It’s a demanding par-72, 6,960 yard course with smaller, more undulating greens than Monterey, and features four par-3s and four par-5s. However, Spyglass plays much longer than the scorecard indicates since most of the par-4s play uphill.

Hole No.3 at Spyglass

The first five holes offer up a brief encounter with spectacular vistas, elevation changes, and swirling coastal winds, but then turns inland into relentless doglegs, sloping fairways, and the closely set trees of the Del Monte Forest for the final 13 holes.

With amateurs in the field, pin placements will be relatively easy on all courses and the rough won’t be prohibitive at all by tour standards. Players will need to be particularly accurate on their approach shots with a myriad of ponds protecting the Spyglass greens.

Last year, No. 11 played as the easiest hole (64 birdies and 82 bogeys or worse), while No. 6 played as the most difficult (7 birdies and 48 bogeys or worse). Hole Nos. 6, 8, and 16 are historically three of the toughest holes on Tour all year, and any misplayed drive will leave very little chance at hitting the green.

Pebble Beach Golf Links

Pebble Beach is a 6,828 yard, par-72 course featuring four par-3s and four par-5s. Two of the par 5s (Nos. 2 and 6) are reachable by all players, while Nos. 14 and 18 are probably only reachable by the longest hitters. Last year No. 2 played as the easiest hole (100 birdies and 116 bogeys or worse), while No. 8 played as the most difficult (18 birdies and 207 bogeys or worse).

Half of the holes are on water, and the extreme elevation changes, natural hazards, and tiny greens surrounded by false fronts and numerous bunkers can make it utterly brutal when the winds pick up.

The shortest hole on Tour, the par-3, 106 yard No. 7 is probably the most photographed hole in golf. It’s also probably the one hole on tour most likely to cause a player’s brain to misfire. Notoriously swirling winds can change the indescribable beauty of this hole into an absolute horror show. Backspin and wind mastery is a prerequisite to score well here.

Heading down the home stretch there are definitely more difficult finishing holes on tour than No. 18 at Pebble Beach, and also more historic holes. But none are as magical as this reachable par-5 where the Pacific Ocean pounds the shore on the left, and a nerve-racking array of bunkers and out of bounds stakes lurk on the right.

No. 18 isn’t merely one of the most scenic holes in golf. It’s a living history of elation and shame, of triumph and collapse, of every reason why we love this game, with new chapters waiting to be written about its lore.

Hole No.8 at Pebble Beach

Players To Watch

All of the courses this week are shorter than 7,000 yards, which means driving distance isn’t going to be a huge factor. There are only a few holes to take advantage of with power. In fact, none of the winners from the past decade cracked the top-25 in distance off the tee en route to victory.

Most approach shots should be made at 125 yards and in, and players who can pile up Greens-In-Regulation in a hurry on these small greens will have a distinct advantage. Watch out for Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, and Brandt Snedeker (two wins here in the past four years).

Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson are the other two players besides Snedeker who’ve won twice here in the past 10 events, and along with Jordan Spieth and Reed are the top performers here in recent years.

Winner Prediction

I’m going with Jimmy Walker to win this week, and no, that’s not a joke. Sure, Walker has missed the cut in his last two events. But he’s inside the top-15 in Strokes Gained: ATG and Proximity To Hole, two of the most important stats to win at Pebble. Look for the defending PGA Champion to pick up career win number seven this week in Monterey.

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