Disclaimer: If you’re a big fan of Bill Murray, you might not want to read any further…
Moving up the coast of California, the PGA Tour finds itself this week at one of the most recognizable courses not only on tour, but in the world — Pebble Beach Golf Links and the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am. For those unfamiliar with this tournament, here’s a quick list of things to watch for this week:
- Bill Murray’s mutton chops
- Kenny G, who is pretty good at golf, turns out
- Jake Owen, of bro country music fame
- Clint Eastwood, the Mayor of Carmel
- A bunch of other really rich dudes you’ve never heard of who want to play in a PGA Tour event
- Six and a half hour long rounds
- Interviews with famous of people just after they tee off on the 17th hole, making those six and a half hour rounds even longer than they have to be
- TV shots of people walking their dogs on the beach below the golf course before they cut to commercial
As the title of the tournament suggests, AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am is a pro-am for the entire duration of the tournament, rather than just the normal Wednesday of a tournament week. This leads to a few differences in format from the “normal” four round event.
Each professional is matched up with an amateur for the first three rounds of the tournament, after which only the low 25 teams of pros and amateurs, and the low 60 (and ties) professionals play the final round on Sunday.
The other big difference from a normal tournament is that three different courses are used (check below for a preview). Each pro-am team plays the three courses in rotation for those first three rounds. And then Sunday after the cut, the entire field is reunited at Pebble for the tournament’s finish.
The first three rounds are filled with dumb antics by the amateurs who want to make the most of their time to shine on TV. By the time Sunday rolls around and the pros are finally all on the same course and playing for the money, the remaining amateurs are pretty much trying to become invisible. I mean, if you’re in the final round of a PGA Tour tournament and can barely bunt a drive 200 yards into the gallery, you’d want to be invisible too. Only exceptions are Bill Murray from 2011 (where he and pro D.A. Points actually won the team event) and Tony Romo from 2013 who played the final round with Tiger and Phil, both of whom CBS actually showed during the final round.
What this all really means, though, is that the courses are going to be set up relatively easy compared to other tour events in an attempt to get these terrible amateurs around the course and to happy hour in the clubhouse at a reasonable time. Not a good chance of that happening, but dammit they’re going to try.
Jimmy Walker claimed his third career win on the PGA Tour by limping in with a final round 74 to hold back a charging Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner. Yup, that Jimmy Walker who has been tearing it up for the past year, and especially recently. Given that he’s the defending champ and already has a win and playoff loss this year, it’s no wonder he’s billed at the second highest salary this week — $17,400.
Monterey Peninsula Country Club — Shore Course
Taking over 3rd course duties from Poppy Hills since 2010, MPCC is relatively new on the AT&T circuit. It’s the easiest of the courses in rotation, playing at a short 6,867 yard par-71. As it isn’t Pebble Beach, the tour doesn’t bother to set up cameras on this course, so don’t expect any coverage.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course
Spyglass is probably the toughest of the three courses in play this week. The course’s opening holes start out like the other two venues — ocean views and sand dunes. From there, the course turns inland for the rest of the 18. Though not overly long on its standard scorecard (6,960 yards), the hilly terrain and tree lined fairways make it play quite difficult. Again, not Pebble, no cameras, so you’re going to have to use your imagination to picture how Bill Murray made his birdie on the 4th, assuming Bill Murray can actually make a birdie.
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Ahh, Pebble Beach. According to Golf Digest in 2013, Pebble Beach is the 7th best golf course in the United State. (Ironically, it gets justifiably beat out by Cypress Point Club which is just around the corner from Pebble. Not too often are multiple courses of that caliber within a mile of each other. But seriously, Cypress is just that good.) Defined by tiny greens that are really good at holding footprints, ocean cliff views, and a tiny tree that grows near the 7th hole (also one of the more iconic holes in the world), Pebble is by all means deserving of its notoriety. That said, it’s a ball striker’s course. There’s a decent amount of hazard — aka the Pacific ocean — but it’s short enough that if you can keep it in play, the low scores are out there, unless you’re Bill Murray.
If you’re looking for a little more information about any of the courses, check out the tournament website’s page here.
What This All Means
Normally I’m inclined to look for relatively young players who’ve been on a roll as of late along with those who have had past success at the tournament. However, this unusual format weighs more heavily towards players who have proven themselves in this tournament in years past. With three courses to learn, players with prior experience should have an easier time transitioning between the different courses throughout the week. Combo that with the shenanigans of the the celebs / rich dudes and this tournament is a whole different ball game. Now, these facts are something to keep in mind, but you also have to realize that not everyone who plays well fits this mold. Every pro who’s playing this week does this for a living. Every week they go to a new city, learn a new course and compete at a high level. Three new courses, though maybe a little annoying, is not something they aren’t used to. So don’t be afraid of going with a younger, less experienced player if you’re thinking they have a good tournament in them. Because that could easily happen too.
With all that in mind, a few players from a few different salary levels to consider…
Patrick Reed — $12,100
Able to knock off Jimmy Walker earlier this year in Hawaii, Patrick Reed could easily be considered the hottest player on tour. Coming back after a week off, Reed has to be itching to get back into the winners circle. For a young touring professional, even having to watch from the sideline for a week can be a lot to bear. These guys just want to play. In his two previous starts at Pebble, he’s finished 7th and 13th, so he clearly knows his way around the courses. But most importantly, his salary is 5k less than Walker’s. If you’re going to shell out for a top salaried player, Reed has to be the guy.
Jason Kokrak — $8,200
The two key stats to look at here: 7 out of 8 cuts this season including 6 in a row, and a T19 last year. Now in those tournaments, Kokrak hasn’t quite put together the complete package. He’s had a few top 20s, nothing incredibly special, but impressively solid. Highest round this year is a 73, and all his other rounds have been in that range. With a set of courses this week that don’t really allow the super low scores (like Phoenix a couple weeks ago), Kokrak’s solid play should fit in well.
Nick Taylor — $6,200
For a semi-outlier pick, Nick Taylor fits the bill pretty well. Having not been full time on the PGA Tour since 2012, Taylor has been making the most of 2015. A win in the fall 2014 wrap-around part of the season, he’s been playing overall good golf for a while now. More importantly, he’s a west coaster, growing up in west Canada and playing college golf at the University of Washington. Knowing the grass on a course is a big boost, especially with the poa annua greens that are the case in Monterrey. A win from Taylor would be a semi-anomaly with a field like this, but seeing him play decently to a top 20 finish wouldn’t make anyone’s eyes blink.