See You on Sunday!
Mark Baldwin went from flirting with the cut line into the top 25 with a round to remember
By Ryan French
Photos by Michael Smyth
Mark Baldwin usually hits about 50 balls in a typical warmup, but he is a feel player. He has no set number. He usually hits 10 or so drivers, and after his third perfect one on Saturday before the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, I went to flip him a ball. “Nope, I’m good,” he said. I knew right then he was on. And was he ever.
Our opening hole at Monterey Peninsula was the par-5 10th, and Mark hit his drive down the right side of the fairway. For his second shot from 245 yards, he chose a 2-iron. The ball never left the flag. It ended up about 40 feet past the pin, but it was a sign of things to come. With us hovering around the cut line, a two-putt birdie eased the early pressure. On the picturesque par-3 11th, Mark hit a 9-iron to about 15 feet. The birdie putt was center-cut. Two under through two.
The momentum and adrenaline were flowing. With a creek running across the fairway, the par-5 12th is a layup for most players because it requires a 305-yard carry off the tee. The hole was playing downwind, and Mark considered 3-wood. Then we decided on the driver. Mark hammered it, and the ball easily cleared the creek. That prompted playing partner Peter Jacobsen to say to his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, loud enough for all of us to hear, “What was all that discussion about Fluff, when the guy hits the driver like that?”
As we walked up the fairway, I asked Fluff if I should have told Mark to hit driver. “When you have a gun like that,” Fluff said, “let him loose.” A legend giving me advice was yet another surreal moment in a week full of them. A perfectly struck 4-iron left Mark just short, but with an awkward putt. He ran the first attempt about six feet by and missed the one coming back. That stemmed the momentum.
We played the next five holes in one over. Mark had a lot of great birdie looks but couldn’t get anything to drop. As I have said many times before, we didn’t need to talk about the cut line. We never say the word cut, but we know. The big scoreboards make it impossible to miss. And when this is your only guaranteed start for the next six months, the pressure can be paralyzing. I could sense it.
When he hit his 3-wood into the fairway bunker at the par-4 18th, Mark was outwardly frustrated. I knew it was time to step in. As I have noted this week, Mark plays his best when he isn’t thinking about golf in between shots. I was ready with the pep talk I was going to deliver during our walk from the 18th green to the 1st tee. Then he almost holed the bunker shot from 115 yards. The ensuing birdie changed the mood. Even so, as we walked off the green I told Mark he should get back to laughing with Steve Young (his amateur partner), Jacobsen and amateur Ben Rector. “It’s when you play your best,” I reminded him. “You are playing great. The putts will drop. Let’s go have some fun.” Mark nodded.
After a great par save at the 1st and short birdie misses on the next two holes, the cut line was lurking again. And after his drive went well left at the short par-4 5th, Mark faced a difficult chip to a tucked pin. We planned to play it 20 feet past to avoid the bunker in front of us. Mark hit it to 4 feet and made the putt. That got us to 6 under and gave us some breathing room.
The next hole is a long par-5, and Mark found the front bunker after a great drive and a 300-yard 3-wood. He executed a delicate shot perfectly and holed a sidehill 6-footer. The biggest gallery we saw all day had assembled around the green, and the fans roared when the putt dropped.
The 7th is a long, difficult par-3. If this were a four-day event contested on the same course, it would a hole you would be ecstatic to play in even par. Mark hit a 4-iron just right of the green and got a great kick to a spot about 30 feet below that hole. Two putts and we would get out of there with a much-needed par. Except he drained it. A huge fist pump and high-fives all around ensued. Everyone in our group was pulling for us. It was a huge reason for our success this week; everyone was relaxed and fun.
A bogey at the 8th dropped us to 7 under, and then Mark pulled a 7-iron for his last full swing of the day, at the par-3 9th. As the ball flew toward the green, I felt a sense of relief. When it landed about 35 feet short of the pin, Mark turned to me and said, “We just made the cut at the AT&T Pro-Am, and we’re going to play Pebble tomorrow.” Things were about to get better.
We had a look straight up the hill at the birdie putt. When the ball was about 6 feet out, I knew it had a chance. Then it dropped. I did a huge fist pump, Mark raised his putter and everyone in the group hugged him. Huey Lewis, who was supposed to be Jacobsen’s partner before being sidelined by an injury, was there. When I saw him, I remember thinking, What the hell has happened this week?
The next 10 minutes were a blur. We all stood off to the side of the green and hugged and slapped five with everyone. Mark has a lot of friends in town, and they were going crazy. It was surreal. (I can’t tell you how many times I used that word on Saturday.)
With his 5-under 66, Mark moved from 59th into a tie for 21st. Just as important is what the made cut means to him. First and foremost he will not have to play any Pre-Qs for the rest of 2022. Next, if he plays his way into the top 10 on Sunday, he’ll be in the field for next week’s Waste Management Open and more than likely earn close to enough points for the Korn Ferry Finals. And if he wins…just kidding. We just want a solid final round and see where that puts us.
What a week. What a round. I don’t even know what to say. Thanks to all of you who have been following along.
Some other highlights from the day:
• Jacobsen was amazing. In his farewell event on the PGA Tour, he was one of Mark’s biggest cheerleaders. It was so unselfish, and he was great to have in the group. And he had some great one-liners. On the par-3 11th, he hit a fantastic shot, but he couldn’t see it land. “I’m too old to see where it lands,” he said, “but young enough to remember where I hit it.” He also quipped, “Kids are on IG and TikTok, and I’m on Flomax.”
• After setting me up on Thursday at Spyglass Hill with what I thought was going to be a handshake, Fluff did it again. In the middle of the round, he came toward me with his hand out. I went to pass him the flag. “I don’t want the flag,” he said. “I want to shake your hand.” He took the flag and laughed.
• Rector hit his tee shot on the par-3 7th way right, in the direction of a raucous house party. Some of the party-goers had been over-served, and Ben said something like, “That was too much.” We had a good laugh.
• I told Fluff I wanted to have a cigarette with him walking up the last hole. But he said he doesn’t share his smokes.
• Young was an amazing partner for Mark and is just a great person. He said he would be rooting for us on Sunday and watching from home.
This has been an amazing week. We’re off the 1st tee at Pebble Beach at 8:05 Sunday, paired with Lanto Griffin and Davis Riley, who’s tied for the pro-am lead with partner Matthew Flannery. Might as well end this remarkable experience with a good one.
Post-round recap from Mark and Ryan following their 66 on Saturday to make the cut!