A Spectacular Scene at Spyglass
Mark Baldwin fired a bogey-free 69, but what happened between shots was every bit as exciting
By Ryan French
I don’t even know where to start.
Maybe with meeting Steve Young and finding him to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever come across. Or maybe asking Huey Lewis if he saw where Mark Baldwin’s ball went. Or how about when Mark asked Fluff Cowan if his ball was teed up behind the markers? I could start with the stories Peter Jacobsen told about Nicklaus and Trevino. Or maybe Fluff vaporizing me on the last hole. Then there was Mark shooting a bogey-free 69 at freaking Spyglass Hill. Maybe I should start with the introductions.
We arrived early on Thursday at Pebble Beach, which is the control tower for the three courses used at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Player and caddie dining are there, and a line of new Lexus vans are waiting to ship players to the other two courses. We arrived at 7:15 for our 9:03 tee time. Yeah, it was a bit early, but without having done this before, we wanted to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to get ready. After breakfast, we grabbed a shuttle and got to Spyglass with plenty of time to spare. We found our amateur partner, Hall of Fame QB Steve Young, on the range and introduced ourselves. He was beyond nice. We are talking about a QB who has played in this event with Phil Mickelson and had numerous rounds with Arnold Palmer, among countless other golf greats. And now Young was with Mark Baldwin. And he treated him—and me—no differently. Just a great guy.
Fluff and Jacobsen were next to us on the range, and Lewis was watching. He is Jake’s regular am partner, but he is sidelined with a torn rotator cuff. He still came to watch as Jacobsen had announced this would be his last pro event, 44 years after his first event, which also came here at Pebble Beach. To be along for the ride is truly exceptional. Lewis was replaced by musician Ben Rector, who was as nice as could be and has some serious game.
Next, we next went to the putting green near the 10th tee, which would be our starting hole. Lewis introduced himself to Mark, who quipped, “Oh, I know who you are.” That drew a chuckle. When we arrived at the tee, the moment didn’t feel real. Mark and I stood there and soaked it all in. No matter how the next three days unfold, we are going to enjoy the hell out of the experience.
There’s only one hole we don’t like among the three courses we will play this week. Naturally, it’s the par-4 10th at Spyglass, because the tee shot is awkward. Mark was nervous, I was nervous and opening with a hole you don’t like isn’t ideal. But he hit a good drive into the right rough. There was a sense of relief. A wedge left us 20 feet, and two putts later we had an opening par. The tension subsided.
On our second hole, a par-5 with a downhill drive and an uphill approach, Mark hit a perfect tee shot that left him with a 2-iron in. That’s when he produced his worst swing of the day—he thinned a shot that didn’t get six feet off the ground and semi-buried in the face of a greenside bunker. He climbed in and we agreed playing to the left side of the green was the best option. (The pin was on the far right.) Facing a shot of about 40 yards, Mark somehow got the ball onto the green and two-putted from 60 feet. Another sigh of relief, a rather big one when you consider the explosion shot could have gone anywhere.
The par-3 12th (our third) is one of Mark’s favorite holes on any of the courses in the rotation: 170 yards, downhill, with water guarding the left. It looks a bit like Augusta National. A gust caught his 8-iron, and it almost went in the water. Luckily the ball stayed up, and after a middling chip, Mark made a 12-footer to save par. We were in full grind mode.
On our fourth hole, Mark hooked a drive left that took a few minutes to find. What a relief when we found it. We grinded out a par. It had been a bit of a struggle up to this point, but we were elated to be even par.
From there Mark put on an absolute stripe show. Blasted drives and precise irons as hit one green in regulation after another. He made a huge par save on our 17th hole of the day and would sign for a bogey-free 69. How impressive was his round? Spyglass played the toughest of the three tracks on Thursday, as it always does, and of the 52 players who teed it up there, only nine bested Mark’s score. Seamus Power had a blistering 8-under 64, and eight others shot 68. I was lucky to be inside the ropes. I hugged Mark on the last green, and we laughed. This all still seems like a dream.
And then there was all that we witnessed between shots:
• On the 15th tee, someone brought out a pair of guitars. Rector and Jacobsen played a song together, and then Rector did a quick song about Young.
• Jacobsen shared a story about his first PGA Tour start, at Pebble Beach in 1977. A player walked up to the tee and asked if he could join him. It was Arnold Palmer. They become instant friends.
• Mark hit a ball a little right off the tee. I was walking ahead when I spotted Lewis. “Hey, Huey,” I said. “Is Mark in the fairway?” And I had to laugh. Did I really just ask Huey Lewis a top be our spotter?
• We asked Fluff about his best years, and, of course, he said the time spent with Tiger. But he was quick to add, “I had some damn good years with (Jim) Furyk. There was a time we hardly finished outside the top 10.”
• When pros plant a peg on a tee box, they often ask players or caddies standing to the side if they are behind the markers. Mark asked Fluff just that, then said to me, “That was surreal.”
• Jacobsen told a story about a teaching pro he isn’t fond of: “If you want to go from a 12 to an 18, go see this guy.”
• During the course of the round, Jacobsen did impersonations of Schwarzenegger, Trevino and Barkley, among many others. He talked about how fun it was to work with Sir Charles while commentating for the “The Match” with Tiger and Phil.
• Young told us his most-used lines when people ask for autographs. You’ll have to wait for the pod to hear those.
• Rector talked about working with Snoop Dogg and his album that is dropping Friday.
• Finally, on our last green, Fluff walked toward me, his hand extended. I assumed he was looking for a handshake, so I extended my right arm. “I don’t want to shake your hand,” he said. “I want the f*cking flag.” With that, he laughed and hit me with the flag.
We’ve got two more days with this group, so more stories are on the way. Pebble Beach is next, at 10:42 on Friday. Time to get some rest!
Ryan and Mark sit down to recap a memorable first round.