PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Scanning the nether regions of the celebrity lineup at the Crosby Clambake can induce a certain forlorn feeling. I mean, I loved Huey Lewis in the 1980s, but I loved my Members Only jacket too; neither remains in fashion. Everybody loves Ray Romano? I dunno, at a previous Clambake a Sports Illustrated scribe described his on-course schtick as “unlikable,” “irritating, “stultifying,” and “soul-sucking.” (O.K., that writer was me.) Chris Berman? Gawd help us all.
And yet this year there was a beacon of hope. Actually, it was more like a ray of golden sunshine on a gloomy day. Her name is Kelly Rohrbach. Perhaps you are familiar with her body of work from the SI swimsuit issue. Moviegoers will soon be able to enjoy her acting (in slow motion!) in the Baywatch movie. Since I take my role as a public servant seriously, clearly I needed to investigate Ms. Rohrbach’s golf game. After all, the readers have a right to know.
As it turns out her credentials as a player are far more legit than most of the other amateurs in the field. Rohrbach grew up playing competitive golf in AJGA events and for her high school team. As a senior at the Greenwich (Conn.) Academy she led her squad to the conference championship and took medalist honors. She was good enough to be part of the golf team at Georgetown, though she rarely cracked the tournament lineup, and she left her team after her sophomore year to concentrate on acting.
At 7 a.m. on Thursday, she trod the boards at Monterey Peninsula in the first group off the 10th tee. It was cold and windy and barely light enough to follow a ball against the gunmetal grey sky. The first thing you notice about Rohrbach — well, maybe not the first thing — is that she looks like a player: textbook setup; sound grip; rhythmic, athletic swing; full release of the clubhead. She made a little mess of the 10th hole but stepped to the tee of number 11, a gorgeous downhill par-3 playing into the teeth of the gale, and ripped a 24° hybrid to within 20 feet of the flag. Later, her pro, Gary Woodland, described it as “big-time shot.”
As the round wore on Rohrbach, sporting a stylish a 7 handicap, mashed a handful of 230-yard drives, giving her a serious advantage as she was playing off the forward tees (5,343 yards). But she’s been so busy with work she hadn’t played an 18-hole round in 2017 — who among us can’t relate? — and the rust showed in her scoring clubs. On the 3rd hole, their 12th of the day, Woodland missed the green and made bogey and Rohrbach, after a wayward birdie putt, faced a knee-knocking three-footer to save her pro-am team a stroke. She missed it, and a few minutes later said with a sigh, “I haven’t played tournament golf in a long time and this is bringing back some memories. Not all of them good.”
In the end she didn’t better Woodland’s score on any hole and their pro-am total of one under par left Rohrbach in 93rd place for the rain-delayed first round. (She is tied with Lewis and Romano and, blessedly, six shots ahead of Berman, who is DFL.) Afterward Rohrbach couldn’t have been perkier. “What a great experience!” she said. “I’ve never played in conditions like this in my life! I’m a blue-sky, 85-degree, nine-holes-in-a-cart, lunch-on-the-terrace kind of girl. But it was fun in a weird way.”
Proving that she is in fact a real golfer, Rohrbach displayed the optimism that keeps all of us coming back: “I didn’t play as well I would have liked, but tomorrow I’m gonna find it.”