Lessons From Pebble

Lessons From Pebble

Jason Day has a complete game, he's fearless and he's motivated. Sound like anyone else you know?
Robert Beck/SI

Pebble Beach, Calif. — I approached my coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am one shot at a time. I stayed within myself and treated it as a learning experience. I also sharpened my shockingly rusty cliche-writing skills, although I was unable to work “red zone” into any of my copy after Steve Lowery’s playoff victory over Vijay Singh.

As for the learning experience, here’s what was noteworthy from the AT&T that you may not have noticed:

• If the celebrity action seemed a little dull this year, it had a lot to do with the fact that Bill Murray wasn’t available to play. Nothing personal, Danny Gans…

• Corey Pavin has updated his look, going for the over-40 buzz cut and getting rid of the mustache that made him look like John Oates from Hall & Oates. But he is playing like the Pavin of old. He missed the playoff by one shot with his closing 66, a feat more buzz-worthy because he began the final round so far back (six strokes behind Singh and Dudley Hart) that he was among the groups that started on No. 10 and finished on No. 9.

“I didn’t come out here this morning and say, ‘Gee, I’ve got a chance to win,'” Pavin admitted.

Pavin has been on the rise ever since he began working with Greg LaBelle, an associate of Butch Harmon. They hooked up shortly before Pavin won the ’06 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. Could he play his way onto the Ryder Cup team at 48? Don’t count him out.

• Who is John Mallinger and why does he keep scaring the field at Pebble Beach? Get used to him. Mallinger played college golf at Long Beach State. He’s 28 and quietly had a very solid rookie year on Tour last year, with four top-10 finishes and $1.68 million in winnings. There’s obviously something about Pebble — this was the second year in a row he finished third in the event. “It’s a special place for me,” Mallinger said. “I read the greens really well. A lot of guys from the East Coast have a tough time out here.”

The funny part is, he almost didn’t play last week because of an ailing shoulder. When he warmed up before Thursday’s opening round, he was close to pulling out before the adrenaline kicked in. He didn’t notice the pain, so he went to the first tee at Poppy Hills. “I snap-hooked my first drive into the bush, chipped out, hit 2-iron onto the green and made birdie,” he said, laughing. “It wasn’t a typical, normal start. But once I got going after that, it was OK.”

• The real star of the week was the tournament itself. Seven days of great weather dried out the courses, which everyone agreed were in terrific shape. It also served as a reminder that despite its flaws — six-hour rounds with celebrities, often iffy weather and conditions — there is no stage quite like Pebble Beach. The tournament took a hit when Tiger Woods took it off his schedule, but the weekend’s finish showcased the courses, and the AT&T continues to regain some of its lost prestige.

“These are courses for shotmakers, and there just aren’t a lot of these courses left anymore,” said the CBS commentator Bobby Clampett, a longtime Northern California player. “There are too many TPC Scottsdales, where J.B. Holmes can hit it anywhere because the hazards aren’t in play for him. These greens are small, you’ve got to figure the position you want to put the ball, figure the backspin, figure the grain — there’s so much to playing these courses. That’s why it’s rare that anybody runs the table. This is a huge event for an area that isn’t big in population. Go over to the corporate tents — it’s a who’s who of corporate America.”

• Jason Day is the real deal. The 20-year-old Aussie got a lot of publicity last summer, and he’s already proven he’s worthy. Day played his way into contention and stayed there until the end, when he missed a birdie putt at the 18th that would’ve gotten him to nine under. He’s got a complete game, he’s fearless and he’s motivated. Sound like anyone else you know?

• The best story of the week might have been Robert Floyd, son of Hall of Famer Raymond. He’s got his realtor’s license — Robert, not Raymond — and he’s become mostly a part-time golfer. That’s why it was so amazing when he played his way into the top 10 after the first two rounds. He faded in the glare of contention on the weekend, shooting 74-76 to fall back to 48th place, but he showed he’s still got game.

Robert, 32, is the middle of the Floyds’ three children. He turned pro at the end of 1997, went to Q-school and went out on the Nationwide Tour. “I felt like I’d go out there, win three times, get my battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour and go on,” Robert said. “It started promising. I don’t know if it was the schedule or being single and 21 on the road — probably a little of both. There were a lot of distractions.”

He hopes to get a few more sponsors’ exemptions this year and get back into golf a little more heavily. His brother, Raymond Jr., became a father the Saturday night before the tournament started. “My [brother] had a baby girl, so I became an uncle,” Robert said. “So it was a good week no matter how it ended.”

His dad, Raymond, was in the gallery and was pleased with his son’s start, but he admitted his role of spectator was nerve-racking. “It’s tough to play,” Raymond said. “It’s tougher to watch.”

• Light moment of the week: Nick Faldo came out of the television tower after Thursday’s broadcast and was posing for a photo shoot behind the 18th green at Pebble Beach. Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who shot 69 in a rare return to competition, was walking by, on his way to an interview with the Golf Channel. “Brandel — golfer extraordinaire!” Faldo called out.

As Chamblee drew near, Faldo added: “Don’t get in my light!”