The Pacific Ocean will be the PGA Tour’s backdrop for the second consecutive week with the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am beginning tomorrow at Pebble, Spyglass Hill GC and Monterey Peninsula GL. Tour players and fans alike are treated to another week of stunning views, not to mention back-to-back events at two iconic courses, both of which have hosted U.S. Opens.
A close look at the statistics from past AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams reveals that green in regulation percentage has played the biggest role in determining a winner in recent years. Since 2009, the only Pebble Beach winner to finish outside the top six in GIR percentage is D.A. Points in 2011, who finished T17 in the stat en route to beating Hunter Mahan by two strokes. The past two winners (Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker) each finished T6 in GIR percentage during their wins, with Phil Mickelson (2012) finishing T3 and Dustin Johnson (2009 and 2010) finishing T2 and T3 respectively.
Though typically secondary to GIR percentage, putting performance has also been imperative in this event. Last year, Walker finished T3 in total putts. In 2012 Mickelson finished first in distance of putts made and strokes gained/putting. Points finished T2 in total putts when he won in 2011 and Johnson finished seventh in putts per GIR during his 2010 victory. (Strokes gained/putting stats reflect only rounds played at Pebble, not Monterey and Spyglass.)
There’s plenty more to winning at Pebble than simply flushing irons and making putts, especially when playing alongside celebrities like Bill Murray, Buster Posey, Kelly Slater and Andy Garcia. And when your partner and father-in-law just happens to be the greatest hockey player of all time (Wayne Gretzky), you’ve got a lot on your hands in addition to the tournament itself. (We’re looking at you, DJ.)
With greens in regulation as the central stat in focus and putting numbers also considered, here’s who we like in the pro-am along with a look at the clubs that might help get it done.
It’s not often we pick the defending champion, but Walker’s game fits Pebble as he proved last year when he won by a stroke despite a final-round 74. Few players put up solid GIR and putting numbers, but J-Walk is an exception. He’s currently T29 on tour in GIR percentage at 72.22% and 10th in strokes gained/putting. Those numbers are almost identical to Walker’s three-win 2013-14 season, when he finished T28 in GIR and 11th in strokes gained/putting.
Walker is currently playing Titleist 714 MB irons (4-9) and a Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS that he originally used in 2003. It has since been refurbished and re-weighted to match his changed specs.
Another player who possesses the rare combination of GIR excellence and putting prowess, Hunter Mahan hasn’t finished outside the top 15 at Pebble since 2010 and finished second to Points in 2011. He’s third in GIR this season (75.79%) and 37th in strokes gained/putting. Mahan hasn’t played particularly well yet in 2014-15 by his standards, but has still managed three top-20s and a T3 at the Frys.com Open in October.
Mahan’s irons are Ping S55 (3-PW) and he’s putting with a Ping Scottsdale TR Anser 2.
Doesn’t it always seem like Spieth is due for a victory? Well, this could be the week he claims his second official PGA Tour title. Spieth’s GIR numbers this season aren’t strong, but he’s managed to rank sixth in birdie average, 14th in scoring average and 13th in scrambling. He’s also 20th in strokes gained/putting, and in two starts at Pebble has finished T22 (2013) and T4 (2014). Last year Spieth shot three rounds of 67 but was derailed by a third-round 78.
Spieth is playing Titleist AP2 714 irons (4-9) and a Scotty Cameron 009 prototype putter.
Like Mahan and Walker, Palmer has put up decent putting and GIR numbers so far this season. He’s 15 in strokes gained/putting and T29 in GIR percentage (72.22%). With three top-10s in four starts, including a T2 at the Waste Management, Palmer is one of the hottest players right now without a win this season. That could change this week at Pebble, if Palmer’s recent play continues.
In Palmer’s mixed bag of clubs are a set of Titleist AP2 714 irons (see above) and an old Odyssey Dual Force Rossie II putter.