pebble beach

Reality Bites

Pebble Beach was dreamy for Mark Baldwin, but a harsh Sunday (and Monday) was a reminder of the cruelty of professional golf

By Ryan French
Photos by Michael Smyth


“Come on, Ryan. We need to lock in right now. We just misclubbed…twice. That’s a horrible error.”

Mark Baldwin was right. We had just made back-to-back mistakes with the wind direction, mistakes that were costing Mark tens of thousands of dollars. 

We teed off tied for 21st in the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, dreaming of a Sunday finish that would give Mark a chance to change his career. It didn’t go as we had hoped. 

A good look at birdie on 1 just missed and an eagle putt on 2 burned the edge, but it was the start of a promising morning at Pebble Beach. A bogey at the 3rd quelled the momentum, and after making consecutive bogeys at the 8th and 9th—which were brutal in the wind—we were in full grind mode. 

That was part of the problem with Sunday; we grinded way too much. The first three days of competition were so fun, playing in a group where everyone was high-fiving and openly rooting for Mark. On Sunday, we were suddenly in one of the most serious and somber groups I’ve caddied in. And we let it affect us. For three days we laughed and played carefree, en route to an 8-under total. Yes, Sunday at Pebble was always going to be different: We lost our jovial amateur partner (Steve Young), and yes, it was an opportunity for a top-10, but we needed to put that aside and keep doing what we had been doing. Instead, I let Mark get sucked into it. Lesson learned.

For the first three days our group was totally invested in Mark, and as I have said many times, Mark plays best when he is loose. On Sunday we stepped on the tee with Lanto Griffin and Davis Riley, who are both intense and quiet. Both are also relatively slow players, and with an amateur rounding out the foursome, we quickly fell behind the group ahead of us. On the 5th hole, a PGA Tour official warned our group to pick up the pace.

I felt terribly for the amateur in our group because the stress level intensifies significantly when you are on the clock. No one was talkative; the guy was just in an uncomfortable position. He was a 10-handicap, playing with three guys who do this for a living, at a blustery Pebble Beach during the final round. No pressure there. 

The process for timing usually starts with a gentle warning, which gives you a chance to get back into position. If that doesn’t happen, you get another warning or you are informed that you are on the clock. That means you have 40 seconds to hit a shot once you arrive at your ball. On the back nine we got put on the clock. It’s no fun. You walk fast between shots, and you can feel the tension build as the seconds tick away. You often see the official staring at the stopwatch he has already started. Picking a club correctly the first time is vital. 

Mark birdied the 11th hole to get back to even for the day, and with the course playing tough, we still had a chance to make a move with a strong back nine. On the par-3 12th hole, the tees were all the way back and it was playing 213 yards, 205 adjusted for the downhill. There was an unusual offshore wind blowing for most of the day, but in that protected corner of the course where the 12th tee sits, we didn’t feel it as much as we might have. We went with a 5-iron and Mark sailed the green, his ball hitting the downslope and rolling 30 yards long. Playing after Mark, Davis hit 6-iron and Lanto pulled 7. We had made a huge mistake. It cost us a bogey. 

We compounded that mistake on the next hole with another error in judging the wind, believing it would affect the ball less than it did. Mark sailed it over the green again. An unreal up-and-down stopped the bleeding but our confidence was still shaken.

We stepped to the 14th hole, which is a par-5 but not necessarily a birdie hole. It gave us some trouble during the second round, when we took a bogey. Mark hit a perfect drive that left us 300 for the second shot. With the wind in our face we decided to lay up, and Mark went with 4-iron. He didn’t fully trust it, however, and said later he wanted to change clubs. But because he was on the clock, he stuck with the club and decided to take a little off. He hit a hook that took a hard bounce in the rough, shot to the left, bounced off the cart path and trickled out of bounds. He slammed the iron back in the bag. It was the angriest I’ve seen him on a golf course; he had every right to be. We had screwed up. “Bad golf I can accept,” he said. “Stupid-ass mistakes, I cannot.” I remained silent. 

Just to be clear, we’re not making excuses. Sullen playing partners, a poor amateur stuck in the middle of a miserable group, being on the clock…it’s all part of the deal. You have to learn to deal with it, and we didn’t do it well. That’s on Mark and me. End of story. 

pebble beach

The good news is we know what we did wrong and we will learn from it. When we are in that position again, we will make sure we don’t make the same mistakes. 

After hitting his tee shot on 18, Mark stood on the side of the tee by himself and looked at the Pacific. He is realistic enough to know he might not get back here again, and he took a second to soak it all in. It was a special week despite a tough Sunday. I’m glad he took a minute to appreciate what happened. 

After he holed out, Mark and I exchanged a hug. We thanked each other. It wasn’t the perfect ending, but it was a week that could be the start of something special. Mark signed for a 3-over 75, joining Davis in a tie for 49th. Griffin shot 70 and tied for 16th. Mark made $21,088.80. If he had made par on 14, he would have earned more than double that. If he had birdied 14, he would have almost tripled his payday. Griffin’s strong Sunday propelled him to a check of $120K.

Mark perfectly summed up the week during the ride back to the hotel. “This is pro golf,” he said. “I just had the week of my life and I am leaving disappointed and angry, but also confident because the first three days proved again I can play out there.” 

There is no doubt about that. Peter Jacobsen, a seven-time Tour winner and his professional partner the first three days, told him as much after Saturday’s round. On Sunday night Jake sent Mark a text telling him to keep chasing it, no matter what. That meant a lot to Mark.

We raced back to our hotel (shout-out to the Vendange Carmel Inn for the free rooms!) and quickly packed. We had a 6:20 p.m. flight out of San Francisco we were hustling to catch. Mark had been sent a bunch of clothes, hats and shoes during the week, so our bags were jammed. The clothes that didn’t fit in suitcases went in his travel golf bag. All of our bags were overweight, but that was a problem we would deal with later. We had to get on the road.

We threw everything in the courtesy car and headed to Monterey Airport, where we had a rental car reserved to get us to San Francisco. One problem: No one was at the Avis desk. So we ran over to Hertz and booked another car. Another problem: It was a small SUV, and the three of us (Colt Knedler was with us, filming for the show) and all of our luggage most definitely was not going to fit. We made it work, although poor Colt made the trip with a suitcase on his lap. 

Apple Maps put our arrival at 5 p.m. We started to push it, only to run into a traffic jam. That ended any hope of making the 6:20. Mark worked the phone and booked us on an 8 p.m. flight into Phoenix. We touched down at 11:30, picked up a rental car and got to our hotel and crashed around 1 a.m. 

A few hours later we jumped back in the car and headed to the Waste Management Monday. “Pebble Beach seems like weeks ago,” Mark said. He was right. 

Mark had nothing left and shot 72 to miss by six, playing the last several holes by himself after Robert Garrigus and David Lipsky WD’d. They too had played at Pebble Beach, and both had played well. What a contrast it was to the scene just 48 hours earlier at Monterey Peninsula CC, when Mark was pouring in birdie putts and we were high-fiving with Jake, Fluff Cowan, Steve Young, Huey Lewis and Ben Rector, as a boisterous gallery joined in the fun.

The good moments in golf are fleeting, and there is no better example than the week spent on the Monterey Peninsula. We truly had the time of our lives, but what transpired on Sunday is what sticks with a player. It stung, and it will continue to sting for a while. It’s impossible not to think about what might have been. 

What we take from the week is that Mark belongs on the PGA Tour. We also learned invaluable lessons we will take to the next event. 

Now it’s time to get after some Mondays. Mark has secured a sponsor’s exemption into the Cuda Championship, but that is still five months away. It’s time to grind.

10 thoughts on “Reality Bites”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experience and followed the Twitter updates for all 5 days. Mark Baldwin has picked up another fan, and I look forward to more of your writing.

  2. Following the inside story of Mark and Ryan’s ATandT week was a blast, and game-changing in the way I will follow golf from now on. Thanks to all those involved in the production.

  3. Thank you for trusting us with your story, and giving each of us a window into your professional humanity. Success lies in our perspective, and true joy lies in how we approach the journey. No one exemplifies these truths better than you two. Keep grinding, fellas. Looking forward to following along.

  4. I was more interested in how Mark was playing and finishing than I was with who actually won the tournament; I was following Mark’s final round via ShotLink on the PGA TOUR leaderboard and that was what I wanted to do. Maybe this could be an encouraging note: In 1969, George Archer had a chance to win the Greater Greensboro Open but had a final round 75 to finish T-11th. He was not pleased during the drive to his next tournament plus he wasn’t feeling too well. The next tournament he was driving to, btw, was The Masters. He won it.

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