Pebble Beach under the spotlight ahead of 2019 US Open
Pebble Beach is a regular venue on the PGA Tour.
At Chambers Bay in 2015 it was bad greens, which Henrik Stenson likened to “putting on broccoli”, on a course Gary Player felt was designed by “a man who had to have one leg shorter than the other”.
The following year at Oakmont it was the bizarre rules decision – or indecision – which left the eventual winner Dustin Johnson, other players, officials and spectators unsure of what his score was with just seven holes to play.
In 2017 it was the sound of heavy rough being cut down on four holes during his pre-tournament press conference at Erin Hills which left Rory McIlroy shaking his head in disbelief.
And last year tournament organisers finally admitted they went “too far” with the set-up of Shinnecock Hills after only three players broke par in a third round during which Phil Mickelson was penalised two shots for running after his ball as it rolled off the 13th green and hitting it while it was still moving.
A remarkable sequence on Hole 13, where Phil Mickelson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball and ended up making a 10 on the hole. pic.twitter.com/kx6ieYiOGR— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 16, 2018
So while it is anyone’s guess what will happen in the actual golf this year, there can be no doubt the United States Golf Association will be desperate to avoid similar problems at Pebble Beach.
The good news is that Pebble Beach is a regular venue on the PGA Tour which should be easier to set up than the likes of relatively new layouts such as Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, while the much-criticised USGA chief executive Mike Davis has handed over such duties to colleague John Bodenhamer.
Mickelson’s quest for the US Open victory which will complete the career grand slam means last year’s issues cannot be overlooked entirely, but Masters champion Tiger Woods and hat-trick seeking Brooks Koepka offer up equalling intriguing story-lines.
It was at Erin Hills just two years ago that Koepka made his major breakthrough with a record-equalling total of 16 under par, since when his record in majors reads 6-13-1-39-1-2-1.
Scotland’s Willie Anderson (1903-05) is the only player to have the won the US Open three years in succession, but few would bet against Koepka’s blend of power and precision giving him a chance to match that feat 114 years on.
The 29-year-old successfully defended his US PGA title last month and left playing partner Woods trailing by 17 shots at halfway, Woods missing the cut by a shot on his first competitive start since the Masters.
Woods took a phlegmatic approach to his early exit, his enjoyment at ending an 11-year wait for a 15th major title at Augusta National, coupled with the need to limit his playing opportunities after four back operations, meaning a rare missed cut could be placed in its proper perspective.
The same may not apply at Pebble Beach however, where the 43-year-old memorably won the 2000 US Open by a record 15 shots to kick-off the “Tiger Slam” of holding all four major titles at the same time.
Woods was also fourth behind Graeme McDowell at the same venue in 2010 and McDowell will be hoping for a repeat performance as he tries to book his place in July’s Open Championship in his home town of Portrush.
McDowell’s victory was the first of four in five years for European players, although 2011 champion Rory McIlroy has missed the cut the last three years, 2013 champion Justin Rose twice in the last three years and Martin Kaymer has managed no better than 35th since his runaway 2014 triumph.
European hopes of ending a four-year winning streak for American players may be best served by Tommy Fleetwood, fourth and second in the last two years respectively, or Open champion Francesco Molinari, while rising star Matt Wallace will not lack for confidence after finishing third at Bethpage.