Pebble Beach: Another Moveable Feast

By: Jay Flemma


There is bad weather in California, and sometimes it shows its teeth at Pebble Beach.

The storms often come without warning. One minute, the sky is clear and blue and smiling; and then, suddenly, clouds condense out of nothing, blackening angrily. The treetops rustle anxiously, and every living thing goes still, as if all nature pauses to take a breath. Then the rain comes, hissing and spitting and stinging, and the wind would roar like a lion in the sky.

The two worst things about rain are that it does not stop and it does not care. On those days, Pebble is nigh unplayable. We would shut the windows against the storm, but they would fog up, and then we would be shut in with our drinks. Cold and hard, Pebble Beach freezes us to her mighty, rugged bosom.

But as Championship Sunday dawns over the Monterey Peninsula, the day is clear and bright, as fresh and clean as a blue-bonneted little girl on Easter Sunday. The air is like wine and in warm, inviting weather, this place of incomparable beauty is an elixir, restoring our vigor and out faith. It's not just Championship Sunday; it's Championship Sunday in Paradise.

Thankfully for the history books, our beauty queen is also a drama queen, and so far Pebble Beach has given us three of the most compelling major championship battles ever - Watson, Nicklaus and Woods - and one pretty good one with colorful Tom Kite: three larger-than-life, iconic winners and one solid Hall of Fame candidate, also three time-capsule tournament memories and one darn good story.

Yet now as Championship Sunday dawns clear and bright, filled with Father's Day promise, there is a metaphorical cloud on the horizon which threatens to brew into a Category 5 hurricane. There's more electricity on this Championship Sunday than ever before at Pebble Beach because of the societal questions triggered should Tiger Woods come form five shots back to win the 110th U.S. Open.

One guest pundit on Golf Channel intoned that, "If Tiger Woods wins, golf is back to normal," and implied that more questions about Tiger's ever-growing number of scandals would end, but many writers don't agree.

"The scandals are only growing. They'll be there tomorrow, whether he wins or not," said one prominent lifer-sports journalist. "Even if he takes home that trophy, it sure won't be one happy Father's Day celebration. At least it shouldn't be at any rate."

It also begs the question, "How much of Woods's road to forgiveness must be paved with good deeds off the golf course, as opposed to curving 3-woods around silly trees on the golf course?"

"We forgave Kobe Bryant rape allegations, but why?" asked our anonymous source. "In fact, has anyone really forgiven him except Laker fans and broadcasters who need access? What is the media trying to sell?"

In this case the media may be trying to sell the larger-than-life fallen icon against the three scoops of unflavored yogurt we have for a leader going into the final round. Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods . . . Dustin Johnson? Well, I apologize that he doesn't have the name recognition of that line-up of golfing immortals, but Johnson has been nothing short of stellar every time he has come to Pebble Beach he has done well: two wins and a tie for seventh. Sadly, he's had trouble on Sunday, averaging over 73 shots in final rounds this year. He won the AT&T in February despite a closing 74.

Nevertheless, Johnson has earned his lofty Championship Sunday perch. He leads the field in greens in regulation (40 of 54, 74%), and is sixth in birdies. He's hit more greens each day than Woods, who has been in more solid form this week than the rest of the year combined.

More importantly, he's just the kind of "Y-front" wearing zombie that can get into what Dan Jenkins calls an "Open Coma," where you shut out everything and win.

"Of course he's going to win," exclaimed one player agent. "He hasn't got a brain, he hasn't got a pulse, he doesn't know he's not at the AT&T, he's perfect for the U.S. Open."

Indeed, Johnson, the pride of Coastal Carolina University - Go Chanticleers! Teal and White, Fight, Fight, Fight - is known for his affability, but also his blandness. Still, inviting him up on the dais of great winners of Opens at Pebble Beach still makes sense due to his record of dominance on the course.

More importantly, if he or Els or Mickelson win, we'll still get an epic story: a story worthy of retelling every Open Championship Sunday when we gather to reminisce before the final round. If Woods wins, the deed will be overshadowed by the sordid scandals which still dog his heels, and which still may further tarnish his legacy and a man, a father, a husband, and as a champion . . . not as a golfer, but as a champion, an ambassador of the game.

Maybe the throngs at the tournament will yell for good shots, but will they hold Woods up as an example for their children? Gleefully buy his endorsed products and paraphernalia? Care about what he says in an interview? Of course not.

So no matter what happens here at Pebble tonight, it is Pebble who was really the star of this U.S. Open. Like a reverie, she materialized out of the June gloom, shone dazzlingly under idyllic skies, warmed the hearts of every golfer, and then, in a few short but turbulent hours, she and the Open will be gone from us; see you again in 2019. But even so, we have seen her beauty, and reveled in it and it belongs to us tonight and forever. The wheel of life and golf turns again and gives us . . . who knows? But likewise, we are hers, entranced and transfixed as though by a lover.

Even if we never come to her in person or see her again, she will wait for us and us for her, and she will be with us forever, a moveable feast as beautiful and enduring as Hemingway's Paris, her glory lasting longer than that of any one man, no matter how many major championships he may win.



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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