PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Practice rounds at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am are unlike any other on the PGA Tour.
Kenny Perry was on the putting green across from the Tap Room, dressed more for the ski slopes than 18 holes at one of the most famous golf courses in the world. The morning chill brought frost with every breath as the 48-year-old Perry meticulously tested a putter that will help with the poa annua greens.
Far more casual was the only other player on the green, who stood with hands in his pockets as he watched.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had just returned from the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. He followed Perry to the first tee, without having been to the range, and without much of a warmup. He pulled driver from his bag.
“Going long on the first play of the game,” Manning said.
That he did, although if this were football, the pass would have wound up in the stands.
Manning will be playing with Webb Simpson, whose rookie season is off to a solid start, when the golf’s greatest celebrity-corporate outing begins Thursday on three courses.
For Brad Faxon, Wednesday was just like most other pro-ams on tour – he played with four amateurs.
That was his choice.
His group included Seth Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, and Tom Ryan, chairman and CEO of CVS Caremark Corp.
“Isn’t everyone playing with four amateurs?” Faxon asked.
There was nothing but amateurs on the first tee later Wednesday, attracting the largest gallery of a glorious day on the Monterey Peninsula. Then again, with respect to Perry and Davis Love III and Fred Couples, these amateurs are a bit more famous – the celebrity shootout field that included Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake, Kevin James, Huey Lewis and George Lopez, among others.
There is star power everywhere, even if that doesn’t always include the world ranking.
Pebble Beach is doing just fine in that department, too. Its field includes three of the top five players in the world – Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and double major winner Padraig Harrington. Perry returned to the top 10 after winning in Phoenix, while Jim Furyk is making his debut after a long winter’s nap.
“This is one of the best weeks of the year,” Harrington said.
He spent the first two days treating practice like the back nine of a major, wrapped up in a fourballs match with fellow Irishman Paul McGinley and their amateur partners, Irish businessmen Dermott Desmond and J.P. McManus.
“I played matches yesterday, I played a match today,” Harrington said on Tuesday. “I think my partner is very sensible and he’ll rest tomorrow. But you know, it’s probably the best practice round of the year, where you can go out there and have a competitive fourball. It has a lot going for it.”
Considering the climate – economical, not meteorological – Pebble Beach has rarely been so important.
It embodies every aspect of the PGA Tour, from entertainment to competition to corporate support. But in recent years, some players view it as the tournament to avoid because of the dodgy weather, bumpy greens and six-hour rounds.
“I was talking to Hunter Mahan today. He loves to play here,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “But he also said, ‘You know, there’s no place better to meet people that are good to meet.’ There’s a ton of people here that make a lot of decisions that relate to investment in the game of golf, investment in players through companies they represent, and that’s an important part of what players do.
“If you’re not going to play here every year, it’s some place you’d want to play on a reasonably frequent basis.”
Finchem spoke to Mahan on the fairways of Pebble Beach, and the commissioner was not in his usual coat-and-tie. He wore soft spikes, a dark sweater with a Whistling Straits logo, and a golf glove.
After year of prodding, one of the CEOs at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am includes the PGA Tour commissioner himself.
The tour gets five spots in the pro-am each year that it usually gives to corporate partners, and Finchem is using one of those spots. He’ll play with Love, who was on the policy board in Finchem’s first year as commissioner in 1994. The other team will be Mahan and Randall Stephenson, chairman of AT&T.
The only mystery was the draw sheet.
Finchem and Stephenson were to play the same course rotation as the celebrities (opposite side of the course) – Spyglass Hill, Poppy Hills, Pebble Beach. But a revised draw sheet on Wednesday had them away from the celebrities (translation: attention) by teeing off Thursday at Pebble Beach.
Finchem plays to a handicap of 6.
“Tim has been working hard on his game the last few weeks, cramming for the final exam,” Love said. “I keep telling him I only need him on four or five holes; I don’t need him all the way around. It’s going to be a fun week as always here.”
Finchem appears to be a legitimate 6 handicap. On the most daunting approach at Pebble, over the cliff to a severe green at No. 8 – he hit a hybrid to 8 feet.
“I’m delighted that Davis would be happy if I played four or five holes, because that’s probably all he’ll get,” Finchem said.