PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — As CEO of Pebble Beach Golf Links, Bill Perocchi was busy with all the last-minute preparations for the U.S. Open over the last month when more excitement came his way: preliminary talks of the 2019 Open returning to the Monterey Peninsula.
That’s the perfect time, too – it will be Pebble’s 100th anniversary.
It quickly became a go, with only a formal contract still necessary to make things official.
“It takes what is a great week and finds a way of making it even greater,” Perocchi said Wednesday following the announcement. “In 2000, we had the 100th playing of the U.S. Open. To have the U.S. Open return in 2019 at the 100th anniversary of Pebble Beach Golf Links, we think is just fitting. It says a lot about how special Pebble Beach is and it says a lot about the tradition and the history and just how great a place it is here.”
The 2019 event will mark Pebble’s sixth time hosting the Open after the current tournament starting Thursday.
The USGA also announced Wednesday the 2017 Open is headed for Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Thomas J. O’Toole Jr., chairman of the USGA’s championship committee, said the decision to bring the Open back to Pebble in nine years accelerated last weekend and is still contingent on both sides signing a deal – something Perocchi expects to happen in the coming months.
“As we embark on our fifth United States Open Championship at Pebble Beach … to have the chance to announce that we’re coming back here in 2019 for our sixth U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is a magical moment,” O’Toole said.
Before this year, Pebble last hosted the Open in 2000, the tournament’s 100th year.
Perocchi isn’t getting ahead of himself yet, though. His top priority is making sure every aspect of this Open runs smoothly, then he and his staff will spend a little time decompressing before beginning future plans in earnest.
“We look forward to focusing on this year’s Open this week,” he said. “Then we’ll start to think about 2018 and ’19 and having the Open return here.”
Also, the 2018 U.S. Amateur is set to be held at Pebble and both O’Toole and Perocchi said there are talks of bringing a future U.S. Women’s Open here, after the 2019 Open.
RELAXED WESTWOOD: Lee Westwood played solo in his final practice session for Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Open. He still drew a huge crowd, and didn’t disappoint.
“That a way, Lee!” one man yelled from the bleachers about 30 feet behind the tee on the par-3, 195-yard fifth.
Westwood, who is still waiting to finally capture his first major after many near-misses, smiled to acknowledge the man and then got to work.
The Masters runner-up to Phil Mickelson, he hit all three of his shots to the green.
“That’s about right,” he said to his caddie before trying a second shot, then switching irons for another.
The good-natured Brit tipped his cap as he walked off, stopping to sign several autographs. It was more of the same for the fans after Westwood hit more than a dozen chips out of the second cut of rough.
After all, he could take his time and enjoy the warm afternoon considering he wasn’t holding up any playing partners.
OPEN PREPARATIONS: Geoff Ogilvy didn’t show up at Pebble Beach until Wednesday, which is not to suggest he hasn’t prepared properly. Ogilvy is among a growing number of players frustrated by the crowd inside the ropes during a practice round.
Instead, he chose to play Pebble on Saturday and Sunday (along with a round at Cypress Point), then headed to his summer home outside San Diego for two days of practice.
“You have three or four people in an entourage, so that’s 12 people in a group and balls are going everywhere,” he said. “And there seems to be more of a media presence.”
That’s why he enjoys practice at the Masters, where only the player and his caddie are allowed inside the ropes. At the British Open, the long summer allows him to start anywhere from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Ogilvy said practice rounds at the U.S. Open can last more than five hours, which is draining.
A NEW VIEW: Ah, what the neighbors will do for the sake of good television.
The owners of a house adjacent to the 18th hole at Pebble Beach agreed to let NBC tear out some shrubs in their yard so the network could install a crane there and attach a camera to the top of it.
The result: Viewers will get to see tee shots on the 18th coming almost straight at them, then see the players’ second shots speeding past the camera and landing near the green – a so-called “speed shot.”
NBC’s executive producer of the golf coverage, Tommy Roy, said Pebble is such a beautiful course, “there’s no need for gimmickry.”
But this one exception should make for a pretty cool gimmick, he said.
“It’s an angle nobody’s every seen at Pebble,” Roy said. “It’s going to be a dramatic shot.”
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Louis Oosthuizen could only laugh and shake his head when he walked to where his golf balls had landed off the second tee during his practice round Wednesday afternoon. Two sailed across the cart path some 205 and 200 yards from the pin, and a pair of marshals were looking after each one. Another ball settled in a nearby bunker.
Oosthuizen, a 27-year-old from South Africa, signaled for the balls to be thrown back to him as he opted to get on with his practice and skip hitting those two from the rough. He focused on his shot out of the sand trap instead.
MCILROY’S MISSION: Rory McIlroy is a Pebble Beach first-timer with hopes of playing as well as he did a year ago in his U.S. Open debut.
He realizes his second such tournament will be among the toughest challenges so far in his young career – after he finished in a tie for 10th at the 2009 Open at Bethpage. One of his opening-round playing partners is none other than Tom Watson.
“I played nine holes with Tom at the Masters this year in a practice round and he still hits it as good as anyone out here,” said the 21-year-old McIlroy, from Northern Ireland. “I think it will be a nice two days. I think it’s definitely a good draw for me. It should help me relax a little bit.”
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this story.