An Unforgettable Day (and Night) at the Clambake
Mark Baldwin and I get our first glimpse of Pebble Beach and then come up aces at the pairings party
By Ryan French
Photos by Michael Smyth
Wow. Just wow.
On Tuesday, we finally played Pebble Beach Golf Links. We had planned our practice rounds so that Pebble would be the last of the three courses in the rotation that we played. Our tee time was at 8:10 a.m. I couldn’t sleep. Neither could Mark, so we headed to the course around 6:45. After parking the Lexus, we ventured into player and caddie dining for the first time. It did not disappoint. There is an effing Chipotle in caddie dining, as well as tons of other free food. Also a massage station, a room dedicated to storing players’ clubs and swag anywhere. It’s truly spectacular. Fluff Cowan was there. Fluff! I played it cool, but for a golf nerd, this was something.
I grabbed a breakfast burrito and met Mark in the common area between the player and caddie dining. (Common is not really the right word, as each table has a centerpiece of magazines and floral arrangements.) Mark couldn’t stop raving about the potatoes. As we were eating, Justin Lower stopped by. Though a long-time pro, Justin is a rookie on the PGA Tour. If you think only Mark and I are geeking out about Pebble, you are wrong. Justin couldn’t wait to get out there, and we discussed how amazing the entire experience is. When David Skinns joined us, the same conversation repeated itself. I know on TV it might appear as if pros are in full business mode, but understand that almost all of them appreciate the life they lead on Tour.
After a quick range session, we headed toward the 1st tee. For about the fifth time this week, we showed we were rookies, as we didn’t know where to go. We asked a volunteer about a shuttle, but she wasn’t sure. Luckily we saw Dylan Wu, whom we were playing with, so we followed him. Normally there aren’t practice-round tee times at PGA Tour or KFT events—you just show up and squeeze your way in. But with all the amateurs and a three-course rotation this week, you need to book times.
We were playing with Dylan and Jim Knous. Nick Hardy was supposed to join us, but he ditched us for Mookie Betts; we will never forgive him.
For the third time in the week, we intended to make this a true practice round, but that proved impossible. The place is just too amazing not to stop and take pictures every few minutes. On holes 6, 7 and 8 alone, I think I took roughly 893 pics and videos. We went live on Mark’s Twitter from the 6th green through the famous par-3 7th.
I don’t have the vocabulary to describe these majestic holes. Waves are crashing in the background, mountains are in the distance and a perfectly manicured course is at your feet. “It’s like a simulation,” I said to Mark. Jim, Dylan and Mark played a $20 closest to the pin contest on 7. All three hit good shots, but Dylan squeaked out the win with a shot to about 9 feet. It easily took us 20 minutes to play a 100-yard hole as we were all taking pictures and videos. Nobody wanted to leave.
When we made the turn, the guys decided to play a $20 birdie game. It is as simple as it sounds: If a player makes a birdie, he gets $20 from each of the others. An eagle is worth $50, and on the first par-3, the 12th, they agreed to $500 for an ace. Jim had eagled two holes on the front nine and made a couple of other birdies, and he promptly birdied both 10 and 11. On 12 he had another very makeable birdie putt but missed it. “Ohhhh, you hate to see it,” Dylan said as the ball rolled past the hole. We all had a good laugh.
Jim netted $60 from both Mark and Dylan. Had he been grinding for a score, Jim would have shot 65 or better. He was striping. It was fun to watch.
Mark hit the ball very solidly and is feeling good about where his game is.
On Tuesday night we went to the pairings party to learn who our amateur partner would be. It’s a fella named Steve Young. You might know him as the Hall of Fame quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers! Yet another pinch-me moment among the countless ones we have experienced this week. The other pro in our group for the first three rounds will be Peter Jacobsen, who will be retiring from pro golf after this event at the age of 67. The seven-time PGA Tour winner started his career at this event in 1977 and won it in ’95. It will be an honor to play alongside him at his last one, and we know Peter will help keep Mark and me relaxed. Fluff too. He’ll be on Peter’s bag, just as he was for his win here.
The party had great music, with country stars Old Dominion and Lady A performing. Young wasn’t there, so that introduction will have to wait, but we rubbed elbows with Jim Nantz, Bills QB Josh Allen, Alfonso Ribeiro and Don Cheadle, among others. Mark and Don had played together in a pro-am on the Korn Ferry Tour, and they chatted for a few minutes. I would never want to bother someone just because he is famous, so for the most part I just gazed around awkwardly.
We would have loved to stick around and have multiple (free) drinks, but at the end of the day we are here to do a job, so we slipped out and were back at the Inn by 8 p.m.
Today—Wednesday—we are playing things by ear. As I type this, Mark is sleeping in. We won’t head to the course much before noon. We may just walk Pebble with a few clubs, or perhaps play a quick nine. A lot of tee shots require decisions on what club to hit, so we want to go through those again. But we also want to make sure we are rested for Thursday’s first round. We will develop a plan once Mark is up and we get to the course.
Things are getting real—less than 24 hours until Round 1, at Spyglass Hill. We already have had so many laughs and memorable moments. Now I can’t wait for the hard part to begin.