PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Even with a smaller field and a bigger purse, one element about Pebble Beach doesn’t change.
Just check in with Tony Finau. He was on the seventh hole, among the most famous par 3s in golf that measures 106 yards down the hill toward the waves crashing against the rocks.
With a strong wind blowing in off the Pacific Ocean, Finau hit driver.
The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is different in so many ways, starting with its status as a signature event with 80 top players (amateurs for only two days) at Pebble Beach and Spyglass and a $20 million purse.
“It has a little less Bing Crosby to it,” Jordan Spieth said. “It was fun and unique in the way that it was, but it has the feel of closer to a major championship.”
And then there’s the weather, which plays a role no matter the format. Two days of relatively pleasant conditions gave way to extreme wind on Wednesday in the final practice round that brought tales of club selection.
“Just 4-iron into the 17th,” Erik van Rooyen said.
Spieth typically hits a driver and 8-iron into the 10th hole that runs along the Pacific. The wind about knocking him over, he hit 3-wood for his approach. Then again, he also hit 7-iron for his second shot into the par-5 18th hole.
It’s not likely to get much better, with rain a big part of the forecast for all but Saturday. That’s typically the day the celebrities take over at Pebble Beach, except not this year.
The 80 amateurs will be done by Friday, and there are hardly any celebrities, at least from the entertainment industry. In their place is a blend of corporate guests and athletes — Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers, Buster Posey from the San Francisco Giants, and even Pau Gasol, who won an NBA title with the Lakers.
This is mainly a show for the elite, a field that always had its share of stars — from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to Dustin Johnson and Spieth — but also a full field of PGA Tour rookies and other players only identified by the names on their bags.
Pebble Beach was one of those rare PGA Tour stops defined more by the golf course and the scenery than the strength of the field. Now it has both.
Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Finau and Spieth are among 45 players from the top 50 in the world. Entry was based on performance — the top 60 in the FedEx Cup last year, along with players who finished among the top five in a special points list from the last three events.
“It makes it even more exciting,” Wyndham Clark said. “Now we have the best players. These big events feel like majors, and now playing it on a major venue makes it even seem bigger.”
Spieth has been a regular since he turned pro, even before his longtime partnership with the title sponsor. He loves the idea that Pebble Beach is certain to have some of the more prominent names in golf in the mix (and possibly the mud) on Sunday.
He also knows what was lost. Spieth will be playing with the CEO of McDonald’s, instead of country singer Jake Owen, his usual partner.
Before the change — and before LIV Golf — it was hard to find greater entertainment inside the ropes than Spieth and Owen, paired with Johnson and his father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky.
“The fact that I don’t have Jake as a partner is probably the only negative, but I haven’t met my partner yet and I’m sure we’ll have a good time, too,” Spieth said. “Most of the amateurs who weren’t able to come back, especially the entertainers, are bummed and are curious about what the future holds and I don’t know what that is, either. That’s the only thing I’ll miss.”
Brady (with New England native Keegan Bradley) and Allen (with “Cashmere” Keith Mitchell) are in the same group. The real rivalry for Allen might be Rodgers, who is in the group behind and playing with Beau Hossler.
Rodgers won the 54-hole pro-am last year while playing with a 10 handicap index alongside Ben Silverman, who was 1-over par for three days. They finished at 26 under. Do the math. Rodgers this year has a handicap of 4. What a comeback.
For the rest of the field, it turns more serious, and it figures to be a battle of the elements. Pebble was always the toughest of the courses to play in the wind because it is so exposed to the Pacific, and now players get three rounds on it.
“I’m extremely excited about the idea that you could have three to eight guys in the world top 10, 15, coming down the stretch at Pebble Beach,” Spieth said. “Regardless of the conditions, that would be something that would be very exciting to watch. Other than the U.S. Open, that hasn’t really been possible in this event.
“So I think the field this week will make it possibly the best AT&T yet.”
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf