PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Golfers usually run for cover when it rains. Maybe research what’s playing at the movies. Unless they’re in, say, Ireland. Or, have a tee time at Pebble Beach.
Here at Pebble, sculpted magnificently along the water nearly a century ago, those gray, heavily misted days just lend a certain charm to the place.
Sure, a perfectly sunny day on the Monterey Peninsula may be a photographer’s utopia. But to get the true experience and earn your keep at Pebble, you hold out hope for the hard stuff. Think Bishop Pickering trying to sneak in 18 holes in a pelting storm with Carl Spackler on his bag in “Caddyshack.”
The players arrive here ready for it, knowing that elements combined with three days alongside amateurs on bumpy greens can be a slog. The British Open is a good place to test wedges. Here, players test rain suits. It’s a terrific early-season mental exam, a chance for golfers seen as being eternally pampered in 85-degree climes to exhibit a little toughness that athletes are supposed to possess.
“It’s almost a little bit expected,” said Jordan Spieth, who is making his fifth start at AT&T. “You don’t normally go into L.A. (Genesis Open) next week thinking there’s going to be rain and it’s going to be cold. But in this week, I’ve played it now twice where it’s been tough weather and twice where it’s been beautiful. But understanding that, historically, that that’s just the way it works around the Monterey Peninsula.
“You can get these fronts that come through, and stories of 6- and 5-irons on 7 at Pebble (a par 3 measuring 106 yards extended out on a point, where pros hit wedges on calmer days). You almost just think these golf courses are kind of meant to play in that kind of condition and so maybe it just makes it a little more bearable mentally going in.”
Spieth was passed by Hideki Matsuyama in the Official World Golf Ranking, and now sits sixth in the world. He says he’s probably working harder on his game than he did two years ago, when he won five times, including two majors, and made a run at a Grand Slam. The OWGR takes a player’s body of work over two seasons, and Spieth has seven victories and two majors in that window.
Mostly, competing at Pebble marks a fun week for Spieth. He’s here to win – he always is – but he also enjoys his terrific group here. Spieth pairs with country singer Jake Owen, and the two play alongside Dustin Johnson and Wayne Gretzky the first three days. Spieth appreciates that Owen, a single-digit player himself, is so upbeat, constantly encouraging Spieth on the golf course.
That Spieth has started his 2017 with a pair of thirds in Hawaii (SBS Tournament of Champions, Sony) and another top 10 last week in Phoenix, yet has slipped down the rankings, speaks volumes about the volatility near the top these days.
“It’s crazy,” Spieth said. “Obviously, I think there’s more emphasis on what’s happened recently. I don’t know exactly how it all works. But it just shows that, first of all, winning is extremely important, as far as moving up. Third place doesn’t do much for you.
“So emphasis on closing the deal out, but emphasis on the major championships, that’s where you make your jumps, too. It’s not really a big concern of mine … once I reached that peak (No. 1), that was the goal I wanted to accomplish. Obviously I want to stay there. But my goals in order to stay there have shifted away from focus on the rankings and more just getting prepared for the major championships, and then that takes care of itself.
“That’s how it took care of itself last time.”