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Opinion & Analysis

The tournament you’ve never heard of at the golf course everybody loves

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When great American golf courses – or just great golf courses in general – are the topic of conversation, one name that always comes up is Pebble Beach. Golf fans of all stripes, from the casual to the most avid, know Pebble Beach – even if they’ve never stepped foot on the property – thanks to years of television coverage of the old “Crosby Clambake”, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, which is now the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Between the Crosby, and the five U.S. Opens that have been held there since 1972, the dramatic land- and seascapes of Pebble Beach are familiar territory to millions worldwide.

With fame and acclaim come complications, however – crowds on the course, shuttle buses from miles-distant parking venues, ropes and course marshals funneling the throngs of spectators into specific traffic areas. While it’s still a thrill to be physically present at Pebble Beach when the PGA Tour pros (and in the case of the AT&T, their celebrity amateur partners) are teeing it up, it’s still a filtered, micro-managed experience.

Wouldn’t we all like to roam this great golf course unhindered, walking the fairways (if we choose), picking our viewing spots and seeing the course the way the players do? Of course we would, even without our clubs (and the $495 green fee…). Well, for 41 years that opportunity has existed, in the form of the best-kept secret in golf – the Pebble Beach Invitational.

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See Pebble Beach like you have never seen it before

Sponsored for the past fifteen years by Callaway, the Pebble Beach Invitational started in 1972 as the Laguna Seca–Del Monte Hyatt Pro-Am, growing and changing over the ensuing years with sponsors such Lynx Golf, Spalding, Ben Hogan and Merrill Lynch.

The Pebble Beach Invitational is like a cross between the AT&T Pro-Am and an industry golf outing writ large. Though it is played over four days on a three-course rota, with the final rounds played on the home course – just like the AT&T – the Pebble Beach Invitational differs in a couple of significant ways. The amateur players aren’t stars from the worlds of sports, music, television and movies, with a few industry and business people thrown in; they are mostly business people and dedicated amateur golfers with the ready cash and the free time to take a week off in November and come to the Monterey Peninsula to play golf. The most important difference, though, and the aspect of the tournament that sets it apart, is the mix of professional players that take part.

The Pebble Beach Invitational is the only tournament that pits professional golfers from the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, the Champions Tour and the LPGA– with a leavening of PGA professionals and mini-tour players – against each other under a length-adjusted handicap system. Graduated tees level the playing field –black for the PGA Tour players, blue for the Champions Tour players, gold for the LPGA pros, white for the amateur men and red for the amateur women – allowing each hole to be played with similar shots by the male and female competitors; on par-4s and par-5s you’ll see the ladies walking past their male competitors’ ball positions in the fairway and pulling the same or nearly the same, club for their second shots as the men are playing from further back.

For spectators, the Pebble Beach Invitational offers a low-key, simplified version of the better-known, bigger-name tournaments. While there are no celebrity amateurs and few really well known pros playing, the Pebble Beach Invitational allows spectators a more intimate viewing experience and plenty of high-quality golf. Forget about 20 minute shuttle bus rides from the CSU-Monterey Bay campus – for the Pebble Beach Invitational, free spectator parking is located at Collins Field, the polo field right next door to the Peter Hay Par-3 golf course, a 5-minute walk from the Pebble Beach Lodge. Admission to the tournament is free, and the usual $9.75 fee to the 17-Mile Drive is waived for the four days of the tournament.

Convenient free parking and free admission aside, the biggest draw for the Pebble Beach Invitational is the unfettered viewing experience the tournament offers – few course marshals and those mostly just there to direct traffic at road crossings within the course, and no gallery ropes (for the most part – the edges of the greens are roped off). In a radical departure from the big tournaments like the U. S. Open and the AT&T, spectators are free to walk either side of the fairways, not just one, and even to walk on the fairways behind the competitors.

No matter how many times you have watched television coverage of the AT&T or a U. S. Open at Pebble, or even if you have attended one of those tournaments, being able to walk the fairways at Pebble Beach gives you a much greater appreciation for the complexity and the genius of this iconic golf course.

Walking the fairway on No. 6, for example, you will gain a much better appreciation for the difficulty of the blind second shot and for the precipitous slope, which looms over the player in the fairway.

At the 8th hole you can sight over the “aiming rock” that sits in the middle of the fairway to allow players to line up their tee shot. Continue walking over the crest of the rise, and you stand at the end of the main fairway and see the 170-yard shot to the green which players are faced with here – an approach that Jack Nicklaus has called “the greatest second shot in golf”.

Walking the fairways on Nos. 9 and 10 you’ll look over the edge of the cliffs that drop down to the beach lining Carmel Bay and get a truer sense of the severity of the slope of the fairways – and wonder how anyone ever keeps a drive in play here.

More revelations await the fairway-walking spectator at the Pebble Beach Invitational as the back nine unfolds: the tricky second shot at the uphill, left-to-right par-4 11th hole, where the green slants away uphill and to the right with only a narrow opening on the left front; the challenge of the last shot into the green at the 14th hole, the uphill par-5 with the most severely sloped green on the course – or maybe anywhere; and finally, the ultimate view at Pebble Beach – the sweeping curve of the 18th hole, with Carmel Bay on the left.

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Well-known, and not-so-well-known players mix in the field at the Pebble Beach Invitational

The field in this year’s Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational featured an eclectic mix of players from the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour, Champions Tour, Web.com Tour and others. The field included such notables as 2008 Masters Champion Trevor Immelman; two-time Pebble Beach Invitational winner Tommy Armour III; 2004 U.S. Ryder Cup team member Fred Funk; local gal Juli Inkster, a native of Santa Cruz, Calif., and a 7-time LPGA major winner and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. There were also relatively well-known players such as Colt Knost, 2007 U.S. Amateur and Amateur Public Links champion; Anna Rawson, a willowy blonde from Australia who splits her time between the LPGA Tour and international modeling assignments; and Cheyenne Woods, a Wake Forest graduate and two-time All-American who plays on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour – and just happens to have a famous golfer-uncle with the same last name.

Arguably the biggest name in the field was Annika Sörenstam, the retired former World No. 1 who left the professional game at the height of her career to settle down in and start a family. This was Sörenstam’s third appearance at the Pebble Beach Invitational, having played in the 1999 and 2010 editions. In 1999, she came down the final fairway with a chance to win, but lost by a shot to Rocco Mediate.

Sörenstam got her tournament off to a good start the first two days with a 70 and a 69, at Del Monte and Pebble Beach, respectively, but blew up to a 9-over 81 in wet, windy conditions at Spyglass Hill on Saturday. She redeemed herself with a 3-under 69 under sunny skies at Pebble Beach on Sunday, but the damage had been done.

“I just played bad [at Spyglass], Sorenstam said. “I already hit it shorter, I’m about 20 percent shorter than I was, and you can just add the wind on it – I mean it went nowhere for me. It’s just rust and not playing.”

Annika played her final round on Sunday in a group that included Bay Area resident Juli Inkster. Inkster, a Santa Cruz native and graduate of San José State University, holds the distinction of being the only women to have won the Pebble Beach Invitational, which she did in 1990.

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Big Break grad Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey makes it two out of three with a win at Pebble Beach

Coming out on top in this year’s edition of the Pebble Beach Invitational was PGA Tour player Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, a one-time factory worker from South Carolina who has just completed his second full season on the PGA Tour. Gainey first came to the attention of the golf world in two appearances on the Golf Channel reality show The Big Break, which he won in his second appearance, Big Break VII, a reunion show that brought back players from the previous six seasons.

Gainey came to Pebble Beach in good form; just four weeks prior to this event he notched up his first win on the PGA Tour when he took the victory at the McGladrey Classic, in Sea Island, Ga. He laid claim to that first PGA Tour win in no uncertain fashion, coming from 7 strokes behind 54-hole co-leaders Jim Furyk and Davis Love III to win by one stroke over David Toms with a final round 60.

Gainey’s somewhat eccentric style of play – he wears two “all-weather” gloves and grips the club baseball-style – held up under the range of conditions the competitors faced over the four days of the tournament. He carded scores of 69-69-70 through sunny but breezy conditions Thursday at Del Monte, light rain Friday at Spyglass Hill, and blustery and rainy conditions Saturday at Pebble Beach – the most exposed of the three courses in the tournament rota. He added another 69 in Sunday’s final round for a 277 total and a one-stroke victory.

Playing in the final round James Hahn, of Alameda, Calif., Billy Horschel, 54-hole leader Robert Streb, a Web.com player from Chickasha, Okla, Gainey had his closest competition in view down the final stretch.

After persevering to post a 2-under 70 at Pebble in the previous day’s poor conditions, Sunday’s brilliant sunshine and calm winds were just what the doctor ordered for Gainey, as he opened his round with a 3-under front side to make up the two-stroke lead Robert Streb had held after 54 holes. Streb, who just earned his 2013 PGA Tour card with a No. 7 finish on the 2012 Web.com Money List, saw the wheels wobble and then spin off on the back nine, starting with a double-bogey on No. 10 that dropped him to two shots behind Gainey. Horschel and Hahn, the other members of the final group, completed their final rounds in even par and 1-over, respectively, and never figured in the chase to the finish.

Just ahead of Gainey’s final foursome, William McGirt and 1996 Pebble Beach Invitational champion Kirk Triplett were making moves, and Gainey, keeping an eye on the scoreboards dotting the course, knew that he would have to stay on his toes to keep ahead of them.

A bogey on No. 10 dropped Two Gloves back to 10-under, one stroke up on McGirt and two on Triplett, but he put the pedal down on the straightforward par-4 13th hole for a birdie, and kept the heat on for another birdie on the par-5 fourteenth, the toughest hole on the course. After that good stretch the golf gods intervened, though, and Gainey hit a rough patch at No. 15 that injected a little doubt into the situation.

After landing his second shot in the right-front greenside bunker, Gainey overcooked his recovery, flying the green by a good 40 yards. Going after the ball with vigor because of its position, lying well down in the lush, damp rough, Gainey gouged a monster divot out of the turf – and only moved the ball about half the distance to the green. Now looking at a strong possibility of a double-bogey that would drop him out of the lead, his second attempt at getting to the putting surface was a beautiful head-high chip that landed about a yard onto the green. His ball must have decided that it had had enough, rolling sure-footedly down to the hole and slipping in for a chip-in bogey.

Another bogey at No. 16, less dramatic, but just as damaging, was the result of an untimely 3-putt, slipping Gainey back to 10-under. McGirt and Triplett had moved up to 10-under by this point, though Tommy wouldn’t know it until he got to the 18th tee and saw the next scoreboard. After a sand-save par out of the front bunker at the par-3 seventeenth, Gainey checked the scoreboard near the 18th tee box. Seeing that McGirt and Triplett were both in at 10-under, he knew that he had to birdie No. 18 to win.

Playing well under pressure is what success in competitive golf is all about, even when the “W” is only bringing home a $60,000 paycheck (1/12th of Tommy’s payday last month for winning the McGladrey Classic, and just a little less than what the five guys who were T-15 at the McGladrey each took home) – Gainey had a job ahead of him. Pebble’s 18th, the iconic oceanfront par-5 that is the course’s signature hole, is a beautiful, left-sweeping swath of green bordering the blue waters of Carmel Bay, but when a player comes to the tee box needing a birdie to win, it’s 548 yards of sheer terror bordered by the biggest lateral hazard on the planet.

Two Gloves, baseball grip, herky-jerky swing and all, Gainey laced a 295-yard drive to a prime position on the right side of the fairway, in front of the pair of trees guarding the spot, setting up an ideal angle for the approach shot – about 230 yards across the corner of the fairway. Taking 3-wood from the spot in the fairway that generations of golfers have striven to reach off the tee at 18, Gainey watched in dismay as his second shot hooked left, toward the long fairway bunker and the seawall that lies between the 18th fairway and the waters of Carmel Bay. Asked after the round about his thoughts as he watched his approach shot to the 18th green heading left, Gainey said, “When I saw my ball headed towards that bunker, I was just hoping it’d get in and stay there.”

Luckily for Gainey, his ball did get in the bunker and stay, and the self-described “pretty good bunker player” was looking at a testing up and down for the win. A deftly-played bunker shot across the opening of the green saw him safely on the putting surface, but with a knee-knocking 6-foot putt standing between him and victory. Stroking the ball firmly – still with both gloves on, as always – he rolled in the winning putt, raising a fist in victory as the ball dropped into the cup.

A few minutes after the winning putt had dropped, at the trophy ceremony beside the 18th green, honorary tournament host Johnny Miller – who has three AT&T Pro-Am titles to his credit and knows a thing or two about winning at Pebble Beach – acknowledged Gainey’s clutch finish, asking the assembled crowd to day:

“That was a pretty awesome birdie there on the last hole, don’t you think you guys? There’s something about winning at Pebble Beach; I don’t care if it’s the Hershey Bar Open, there’s just something about winning at Pebble.”

Miller cited Gainey’s recent success, reminding the fans around the 18th green that Gainey had now won two of the last three events he had entered.

“You gotta be feeling pretty good, huh? ” he said to Gainey.

“I’m feeling pretty happy right now,” Gainey said. “Winning here is just awesome. How could you ask for anything better – winning at Pebble Beach.”

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

Written by: Gary McCormick

GolfWRX Contributor

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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Opinion & Analysis

Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition.  n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do).  I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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