At precisely 6:45 AM Pacific Time on the Pebble Beach Golf Links first tee on June 16, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, will tee off, thus starting the examination of the best golfers in the world to determine who will become the 119th U.S. Open Champion.
A year ago, at Shinnecock, the view of the Atlantic Ocean added to the overall charm and the incredible scenery. This year, the Pacific Ocean is so close to the 18th green that the players may feel the ocean spray. Two completely different courses, both close to oceans, both beautiful, both a good examination. Although both have a lot in common in my opinion, Pebble Beach is more pleasing to the eye, while Shinnecock is a far better test.
And there are two other ways the Pebble Beach and Shinnecock areas are connected. John Steinbeck, one of America’s greatest writers, had a huge affinity for both settings. The Pebble Beach Golf Links opened 100 years ago in 1919, which was the same year that Steinbeck graduated from nearby Salinas High School. He lived and wrote in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea as much as he did in Sag Harbor. Although both areas possess a serene and charming setting, oddly enough, both areas also provided a unique setting for high-speed race cars.
The Bridgehampton streets were the site for open-car racing, where Roger Penske once took home the honors. Eventually, this turned into racing at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit. Oddly enough, that track is now a wonderful golf course called the Bridge. Also, in the 1950s, car racing was very popular in the shadows of Pebble Beach.
Golf, by some, has been described as a good walk spoiled. Just think, if you were in great shape and had great footwear and chose to walk the distance to get to each course, it’s estimated that would take you 999 hours to traverse the 3097 miles. For reference, driving it would take around 48 hours non-stop.
There are so many storylines coming into Pebble Beach that I worry it will not live up to the hype. Topping the list in the fairy tale department has to be Phil Mickelson, who won earlier this year in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and only needs the U.S. Open title to complete his career Grand Slam. Bear in mind only five players in history have done so: Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, and Woods. As fairy tales go, this would be a good one . . . Mickelson will turn 49 on Championship Sunday and would then be the oldest player ever to win a Major.
Tiger, fresh off his Masters win, could be a factor this week. In 2000, Woods came out on top by 15 shots at 12 under par and was the only player under par that week. A Tiger victory this week would bring him to within two titles of Nicklaus’s record of 18.
Despite the allure of a Tiger win or a Phil Slam, defending champion Brooks Koepka, who came out on top in his last two U.S. Opens, is seeking a three-peat, a feat only accomplished once in history by Willie Anderson and that was well over 100 years ago.
Oh, by the way, a lot of Irish eyes were smiling after Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell both scored big victories at the RBC Canadian Open this past weekend. McIlroy, the Irish golf child prodigy who is now 30, put his full arsenal of golf prowess on display as he ran away with the Canadian Open title, oddly enough, a title never won by Jack Nicklaus. McDowell’s seventh-place finish secured his spot in the Open Championship that will be played in Northern Ireland in July at Royal Portrush, where McDowell grew up and learned the game. It’s a course he has played more than 500 times and, as he is one of his hometown’s favorite sons; it was a big relief for him to make it into the field.
The question remains, will a fairy tale come true or will reality prevail in our National Championship on Sunday?
So as Father’s Day approaches, if you are blessed to still have your Dad, be sure to tell him you love him.