PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) The rain started falling late Wednesday, a sure sign the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was about to begin. And it was sure to bring a smile to Padraig Harrington.
The three-time major champion from Ireland is not much different from any other golfer. Give him the choice between 80 degrees and sunshine or 50 degrees and rain that falls sideways, and he’ll be on the first plane to Palm Springs.
But he can play in the cold, in the wind, in the rain – sometimes all of the above.
“I was brought up playing in this,” he said. “It’s natural to me. I understand it. I can adapt to it. I don’t have issues with it. Being brought up in Ireland, you get a lot of different conditions. You can have a nice summer’s day or you can have a wet and windy day, and you just have to get on with it and adapt.
“Certainly, that’s a trait of mine that has served me well.”
Even as recently as last year, it should not go unmentioned that he won the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 30 mph wind, and won the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills by playing 27 holes on Sunday because of the rain.
But he offered some insight and illustrations of his history with weather and his passion for golf in any conditions.
“I have never arranged to play a game of golf in Ireland and not played,” Harrington said. “There’s never been a day. I have played when it snowed, I’ve played in all sorts of conditions, but I can’t ever remember arranging to play golf and not actually going to play.”
The worst of it?
Harrington played the West of Ireland golf championship every year as an amateur, the first big tournament of the spring held at Rosses Point on the tip of the Emerald Isle where he said the “next stop would be New York.”
“As you stand there, it’s kind of on the sea or kind of on the cliff edge, and you can see the weather fronts come in,” he said. “And the weather used to get so bad that it was close to gale force winds, hail storms. When the real bad wind came in, you used to have to huddle into little ravines or bunkers to protect yourself from the hail storms.”
He would wear a T-shirt, a golf shirt, a vest, two sweaters and a rain jacket and still feel the hail.
But he remembered one valuable lesson.
“My old coach, Howard Bennett, used to always say, ‘You get a bad day, 50 percent of the field aren’t prepared to play in those conditions, and the next 50 percent aren’t capable of playing in the conditions. So you’re only playing 25 percent of the field on a bad day,”’ Harrington said. “Whereas on a nice, sunny day, you have to beat everybody.”
No telling how many he will have to beat when the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am begins on Thursday.
The field is the largest in golf, 180 players with 180 amateurs spread over Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills. This is the one tournament that has room for every rookie from Q-school or the Nationwide Tour, and some players who only have status as a past champion. Chris Smith, who hasn’t finished in the top 150 on the money list in five years, got in as an alternate.
The field is strong. Harrington is among three players from the top five in the world ranking – joining Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, back from a minor knee surgery – while Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk made it five of the top 15.
The last three PGA Tour winners – Nick Watney (Buick Invitational), Perry (FBR Open) and Pat Perez (Bob Hope Chrysler Classic) are playing, as are David Toms and Davis Love III.
What kind of weather they face remains a mystery, which is typical of Pebble.
Remember, this is the tournament that was delayed in 1962 because of snow. Jimmy Demaret rolled out of bed at the Lodge, saw snow on the 18th green and quipped, “I know I had a lot to drink last night, but how did I end up in Sun Valley?”
But as bad of a rap that Pebble gets this time of the year, weather hasn’t been an issue since Tiger Woods won on a Monday in 2000.
Toms is back for the first time since he missed the cut in 2002, in part because he is No. 66 in the world ranking and this is the final week to qualify for the 64-man field at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
“The last few times I was here, the weather was extremely iffy at best – probably a lot like we’re going to have again,” he said. “So maybe it’s my fault.”
Also back at Pebble is Mark Calcavecchia, although he’s not sure why. He stopped playing the Sony Open and Buick Invitational, missed the cut in his two starts in the desert, and figured he’d better play somewhere.
“Plus I kept hearing the weather has been good here, so I figured I’d better put a stop to that,” he said. “I played in 2001 and it took me three years to get over it. Played here in 2004 and it took me five years to get over that.”
Sounds like he might not be in that 25 percentile to which Harrington referred.