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Pebble Beach - Benefactor and Thief

Snedeker's win is the latest twist for a legenday course

Posted Feb 12, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

pebble beach

It has made and crushed golfing dreams, arguably in equal measure.  We’re talking about Pebble Beach where last weekend, America hailed its latest sporting hero. As the natives would put it, Brandt Snedeker looks to be the real deal.

Sure, there was tremendous promise last season in the performances of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.  Even with their Major successes, however, they don’t seem to have Snedeker’s appeal.  And it’s not simply because he putts better than most; his crisp ball-striking and brisk pace of play, are winning new admirers every time he moves up a leaderboard.

Five tournament wins is modest enough by the prolific standards of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, but Snedeker is already a ten-million-dollar-man, having captured the FedEx Trophy last autumn.  And one suspects come April-time, the odds will be pretty short against his making a Major breakthrough with victory in the US Masters at Augusta National, where he was tied third behind Trevor Immelmann in 2008.  He slipped to a closing 77 on that occasion but there will be a lot more confidence in his challenge, next time around.

Looking at those wonderful images of the Monterey Peninsula on TV, with David Feherty doing the one-course interviews, I was reminded of the 1992 US Open at Pebble.  That was when Feherty, needing a par finish to make the halfway cut, sent his tee-shot on the treacherous 18th into the Pacific Ocean to miss out by a stroke.

That was also the event chosen by Mickelson for his debut in professional ranks.  And typically, where Pebble gave, it also took away.  As in an opening 68 which left him tied third behind Gil Morgan and apparently set for a memorable debut, accompanied by a handsome, five-figure cheque.  Crushing reality, however, came in the form of a second-round 81, which pushed him two strokes outside the halfway cut.

Five years later, a newly-constructed sea wall seemed to have the effect of making the long 18th even more formidable.  Snedeker was clearly taking no chances when he negotiated it with a three-wood, six iron, eight iron and two putts for a closing par on Sunday.

The dramatic climax to this iconic venue, lost a major battle with El Nino, when that obstreperous youngster made an unwelcome visit early in 1997.  Yet through elaborate reconstruction work, one of the finest finishing holes in the game was significantly strengthened.

It involved a six-month, multi-million dollar fortification effort whereby the Granite Construction Company rebuilt a five-foot wide base along with a new sea wall, before placing four huge rocks along the shoreline.  These rocks were fashioned and sculpted to match the rock formations which confront the incoming tides and were then painted to tone in with the existing landscape.  In addition to strengthening the shoreline, the 18th teeing-area where Feherty came to grief, was rebuilt and extended by 30 feet into Carmel Bay.

An architectural curiosity of the tee is a concrete floor built nine feet below the grass surface, which helped solidify the structure. Meanwhile, the green was enlarged by 83 square yards, mostly to the back left and closer to the water, facilitating a new pin placement.  This was done with the intention of making players think twice before aiming at the pin with their third shots, especially if poor approach play had left them with anything more than a short iron.  Mind you, it didn’t manage to curb the irrepressible gambler in Mickelson, who ran up an eight there from such a situation, last weekend.

Pebble’s role as benefactor and thief was very much in evidence in the 1982 US Open.  That was when Jack Nicklaus seemed destined to make history by winning the title for an unprecedented fifth time, only for Tom Watson to hole an outrageous birdie pitch on the short 17th and steal victory.

Ten years later, Gil Morgan actually did made history at Pebble, by becoming the first player to reach double-figures under par for the championship. His breakthrough came on the third hole of his third round when a birdie brought him to 10-under-par.  And he went on to card further birdies at the sixth and seventh to be 12-under and seven strokes clear of the field at that stage.  Then came a dramatic fall from grace, when a third-round 77 was followed by a wretched fourth-round of 81 for an eventual share of 13th place behind Tom Kite.  

Conditions were significantly less daunting for Snedeker, especially on the small, contoured greens which would have been a lot more receptive than at US Open time.  But the win was still hugely impressive, at a venue which is notoriously frugal in how it bestows favours.  

- Dermot Gilleece

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