PEBBLE BEACH

A Beautiful Grind at Pebble Beach

Mark Baldwin didn’t have his best stuff, but he stayed in it by scratching out at even-par 72

By Ryan French
Photos by Michael Smyth

I know I used the word “grind” a lot, but that was a grind. 

Mark Baldwin just didn’t have his best stuff on Friday during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It happens. You have to make the best of it, and for the most part he did. 

We were in the last group to go off the 1st tee at Pebble Beach, so we got to player dining around 9 a.m. and headed to the range about 30 minutes later. Steve Young, our amateur partner, was already there. He promised to play better than he had at Spyglass on Thursday, and he did. Obviously, we’re not concerned with how he plays; he has been so nice and so invested in Mark. Just an amazing person. And an ideal partner for Mark. 

Mark opened with a 2-iron down the middle and a decent wedge to 36 feet, but he left the birdie putt 5 feet short and then missed the par attempt. After going bogey-free at Spyglass, the opening bogey stung, but he got the shot back with a two-putt birdie on the easy par-5 2nd. 

From there the round was up and down, with a lot of great par-saving putts mixed in with a couple of bogeys. A few shots stood out. At the par-4 9th, Mark had about 55 feet for birdie. “Time to make a bomb,” I said to him. He then … made a bomb. We each delivered a huge fist pump. He had rallied from that early bogey to make the turn at 2 under and was at 5 under for the tournament, easily inside the top 40. 

He followed with three consecutive pars, including a fabulous sand save at the 12th, but from the fairway at the par-4 13th, Mark pushed a 9-iron that snuck into the right bunker. After a good sand shot, he missed the 7-foot par putt. Then at the par-5 14th, two good shots left us 111 yards to a pin cut on the right side. The green has a treacherous false front on that side; you can’t miss it short. Otherwise, the ball will roll off the green and back onto the fairway. But that’s exactly what happened when Mark hit one of his worst shots of the day. He was left with a delicate chip from about 30 yards and the prospect of the ball rolling back to his feet if he came up short again. The fourth shot stopped 14 feet beyond the pin, and when he missed the par putt, whatever momentum we had was gone as a result of the back-to-back bogeys. 

On the 15th tee I said to Mark, “All right, man. Take a breath. Let’s reset here.” He took a moment to himself, then hit a great drive and a wedge to 10 feet, only to watch the birdie putt burn the edge. It was the same story on 16, where he had a long birdie look, and at the par-3 17th he just missed a 24-footer. All good putts, but they didn’t want to go in. He got to the front fringe in two at the par-5 home hole, but three-putted from 47 feet. He signed for an even-par 72 and is 3 under for the tournament, in a tie for 59th.

When Mark came out of scoring, I could tell he was frustrated. But he was also relieved. “That was my C game and easily could have been a 75,” he said, “but I kept myself in the tournament.”

A few highlights from the day: 

• One of the funniest moments came on 10, after Young fanned his tee shot onto the beach. Most celebrities would not have bothered, but he climbed down the cliff and decided to play it. When he ventured to the bottom of the hill, he found a guy napping on the beach. He awoke amid the commotion. Mark and I were laughing hysterically. Imagine waking up to find someone scaling down the cliff toward you. And it’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. Young then hit what appeared to be a good shot and went running down the beach high-fiving onlookers. Unfortunately, he hit the next shot back into the hazard.

• On 18, Young made a 50-footer for par. And the crowd went nuts! It was cool to be a part of that. 

• It’s funny what golf does to people. Young and Ben Rector (the amateur partner of Peter Jacobsen) talked about how nervous they were playing in front of so many people. These are two guys who have played football or concerts in front of tens of thousands of fans.

• Jacobsen told a great story about the time his caddie Fluff Cowan stuck up for him at the Clambake. Jacobsen was playing with Jack Lemmon, and the other amateur in the group was talking loudly as Jacobsen lined up a putt for the lead. On the next tee, the amateur said, “If you had made that putt, you would have had the lead.” Fluff replied, “If you would have shut up during that putt, he would have made it.” 

• Rector hit one of the “best” shots of the day on the difficult par-3 5th hole. (Mark was happy to escape with par.) Rector, an excellent player, straight up skulled his 7-iron. The ball hit about 50 yards in front of the tee, took a huge hop and rolled for 100 yards to about 20 feet. He and Mark were playing a closest-to-the-pin contest, and we gave him some serious grief about the shot on our walk to the green. 

• We asked Young if he would like to get into coaching, and he said yes—not full-time, but helping players out. He said he worked a little with Tim Tebow, but hasn’t done a ton of it.

• The fans of Northern California love them some Steve Young. Spectators were screaming for him all day. He took endless selfies with fans and signed countless autographs.

I want to circle back to what we experienced on the 18th tee, which was the best moment of the week by far. Mark and I promised ourselves that no matter what happened this week we were going to enjoy the hell out of it. When you are in the middle of a round like the one we grinded through, that is easy to forget. But as we waited on the tee, Mark said to me, “Look around, Ryan.” The Pacific was to our left, and fans were shoulder to shoulder lining the right side of the fairway. After he striped a 290-yard drive, we made one of the most breathtaking walks in golf. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever be in this position,” he said. “This is really awesome.” It was more than that. It was surreal.

We plan to do that walk again on Sunday. We are one inside the cut line. A 2-under round on Saturday at Monterey Peninsula should keep us safe, but we don’t talk about it. Yes, Mark and I both know it, and yes, we will steal glances at the leaderboards, but on Friday night Mark said, “I’m going to shoot a low one tomorrow and get back in this.” 

Nine days ago we weren’t even in this event. If you would have told us we would go into cut day inside the number, we would have thrown a party. So Saturday we plan to shoot a low one. We start on the back at MPCC, which has three par-5s, so it’s the perfect situation to get off to a hot start. We will be ready. 

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6 thoughts on “A Beautiful Grind at Pebble Beach”

  1. I think you got a little creative with your description of Ben Rector’s tee shot at #5 at Pebble. I was standing at the ropes directly opposite the front edge of the green and I don’t remember it happening quite that way.

    Also, you should mention Rector’s second shot at #8, which hit the green on the left edge and a bit above the hole, and rolled down to kick-in range—the only non-professional-athlete in the foursome and he was the only one to hit the green.

    1. This petty silliness is why I stopped following you on Twitter. Why should I preference your recollection over Ryan’s? And, in any event, even if it wasn’t a bladed 7-iron that ran forever, who cares?

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