Pros Agree, Pebble Beach Will Provide Match-Play Options August 8, 2018 By Dave Shedloski

Three-time U.S. Amateur champion Tiger Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

Pebble Beach Golf Links, the iconic and idyllic seaside course on the Monterey Peninsula in California, will host the U.S. Amateur Championship for the fifth time and will welcome a USGA championship for the 12th time when the 118th U.S. Amateur begins Aug. 13 on its storied shoreline.

Because it is home to an annual PGA Tour event – since 1947 it has hosted the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am – in addition to its storied USGA history, Pebble Beach is one of the most famous golf courses on earth. Next year, the 119th U.S. Open will be contested there to mark Pebble’s 100th anniversary. It will be the sixth visit to the Monterey Peninsula for the national championship and the first since 2010, when Graeme McDowell triumphed. The USGA announced last fall that it will return in 2023 for its first U.S. Women’s Open there, and in 2027 for another U.S. Open.

The course’s renown is built on this abundance of stroke-play exposure, but it has proven over time to be equally superb as a match-play venue. Until 2007, Pebble Beach hosted all but one edition of the California Amateur Championship. And, of course, there were the four previous editions of the U.S. Amateur, won by David Gossett in 1999, Jack Nicklaus in 1961, Robert “Skee” Riegel in 1947 and Harrison R. “Jimmy” Johnston in 1929. This year, as in 1999, Spyglass Hill Golf Course will be the co-host for 36 holes of stroke play, with all six rounds of match play being held at Pebble Beach.

A number of tour players, past and present, provided thoughts and insights on the strength of Pebble Beach Golf Links as a match-play venue as the U.S. Amateur returns for the first time in 19 years.

Jack Nicklaus

Two-time U.S. Amateur champion, including at Pebble Beach in 1961

Four-time U.S. Open champion, including 1972 at Pebble Beach

Redesigned the par-3 fifth hole at Pebble in 1999 and competed in his last U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000

I always thought Pebble was a wonderful match-play golf course because you could be more aggressive. For one thing, you didn’t have to worry about putting the ball over the ocean one time and eliminating yourself from the tournament.

Pebble Beach was the first place where I walked off yardages on the golf course[in 1961]. I played every round under par, largely because of that, and it was a pretty good feat. But I liked Pebble very much as a match-play course. It was fun to play the course that way, and I had a particularly strong day in the final (beating Dudley Wysong 8 and 6). I think part of the reason I’ve always played well there is because I loved it the very first time I saw it. It is one of my favorite places in golf, and it could not have been a better place for me to end my U.S. Open career.

Frankly, you could hold any event at Pebble Beach and it would be fantastic. Whether it’s calm or the wind blows, you always have a lot of options.


Phil Mickelson

Winner 1990 U.S. Amateur

I think any great golf course makes for good competition whether it’s stroke play or match play, and Pebble Beach is certainly a great venue for either format.

I remember playing the California Amateur here and Pebble Beach was a tough match-play course because of the uncertainties you encountered. You didn’t know what kind of shot you were going to find out there and you didn’t know what kind of shot your opponent had. You didn’t know how the lie was, if it affected the chip or the angle of a shot. The greens are so severe that you expect a guy to make a par and he ends up three-putting. There are so many more uncertainties that you almost have to play it like a stroke-play event, because you just never knew what your opponent was facing, and therefore, how can you plan any strategy related to match play? Just go play each hole the best you can. Too many times you think they’re OK and they’re not or you think they’re in trouble and they’re fine.

Steve Stricker

2017 Presidents Cup captain

If they play it in the conditions we had this week [during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am], where it’s pretty firm – and it should be that time of year – it can be difficult. It’s hard. Greens are small. In match play, you’re probably going to aim more at the middle of some of these greens to minimize risk. But you can take some chances out there, too. The fourth hole, maybe some guys could try to drive it. You can be aggressive on 6. The wind blows, and then all bets are off on what wins a hole, which can be exciting. I think it will be terrific for match play in the summer.

Colt Knost

2007 U.S. Amateur champion

It will be awesome. Anything at Pebble Beach is going to be great. The weather should be good and that could make it pretty tough, depending on how firm it gets and if the wind blows. They wouldn’t need to do anything special to make it a great test for both the stroke-play qualifying and then match play. If it gets firm and the wind blows, you’ll see some interesting scores winning holes.

Kelly Kraft

2011 U.S. Amateur champion

It will be interesting. You make a lot of putts and you’ll do well, but that’s the thing – the greens can be frustrating. You have to stay patient knowing other guys are going to struggle, too. Speed control is really crucial. Some putts are going to go in and some great-looking putts are not going to go in. Stick with it, stick with a game plan.

One of the most interesting things about an Amateur at Pebble is if the weather is great, you have a lot of scoring options. They can move tees around, move the par 5s up or back, maybe move the 14th way up. Move the tee up on 10 to make it drivable. There’s a tee way up there they can use. I don’t know how it will be set up, but it will be fun to watch.

David Duval

Winner, 2001 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes

I think you could play a hickory club tournament out here. You could play any type of format you want. You could do anything and it would be special, because it’s Pebble Beach. And the other course is Spyglass Hill for qualifying? That is about as good as it gets, honestly.

I know the inland holes get criticized [at Pebble], but I don’t believe they should. The quality of the golf holes 1 through 18 is very strong. Every hole has something that makes it challenging and gets your attention. Look at that first hole. To play the hole properly you are only supposed to hit it about 215 or 220 yards off the tee. That leaves a 6-iron into the green. Good luck hitting that green with a 6-iron. Sure, you can try to hit one around the corner, and that would make it different, but that’s not a great play, frankly. Maybe you pull it off, maybe not. And that’s the weakest hole by some standards? I just don’t see it. Pebble Beach deserves all the respect in the world in terms of quality of golf. The views and everything make it memorable.

Davis Love III

1997 PGA champion

Two-time winner AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

There are a lot of pins you might go for in match play that normally you wouldn’t, but you do have to be very precise. Otherwise, you can employ some good strategy. I remember Nathaniel Crosby [winning the 1981 U.S. Amateur] at The Olympic Club, hitting it short of everything and then just pitching it up and having short putts and hanging in there. At Pebble, leaving yourself uphill chips and putts and letting the other guy make the mistakes generally wouldn’t be a bad way to go about it.

I don’t think it matters what you play on a great golf course. It’s going to be great no matter what the format. That really doesn’t change. I will say you can make a lot of birdies there, especially on the front nine. You can cut corners. You don’t have to lay up on Nos. 1 or 4, you can go for the par 5s. Yeah, make some birdies early and put some pressure on the other guy. That’s always a good match-play formula.

Tiger Woods

Three-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion

Three-time U.S. Amateur champion

Three-time U.S. Open champion, including 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach is fantastic for match play. If you make a boatload of birdies early – and you probably are going to have to in most matches – the way those greens are set up that time of year, it’s going to be firm, which means it will be a little bit tricky as the day goes on. You don’t get much rain in August. You might get some fog, but it will play firm. And that means you will have some more difficult pins, and in a match-play situation, you can see some swings in scoring. And who cares if you win with an 8 or you win with a 3. It’s one hole and you just go on to the next.

I played the California State Amateur there one time, 1992. It was a lot of fun. Lost in the semifinals. I kid you not, I lost in the semifinals to Steve Woods. He went to San Jose State. I love playing Pebble Beach in both formats, but I think it’s awesome for match play, and I think they’re going to love it.


John Cook

1979 U.S. Amateur champion

1975 California Amateur champion at Pebble Beach

I’ve had four or five wins there, going back to the state high school championship and the state amateur, so I’ve had my moments.

It’s a course that, even if you play it at match play, you can play the golf course and beat the golf course, and if you shoot 3-4-5 under then you’re probably going to win your match. Or you can play the man and adjust strategy. Either way, you probably are not going to win many holes with bogeys. There are some courses with trouble all around and you might win a hole even with a double bogey. You can’t do that at Pebble. You’re going to need pars and birdies because there isn’t a lot of big trouble, unless you start hitting it in the ocean. Granted, there are big numbers out there, but if you’re familiar with the golf course at all, then you’re going to be able to handle it.

It definitely is a place you can attack at match play. I think it’s an interesting course anytime, but at match play it becomes a lot more fun. There are some shots you can be more aggressive on, and it can really pay off when you go for a shot here or there, and if you don’t pull it off, well, you go to the next hole.

Tom Kite

Winner 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

I never played Pebble Beach at match play, but I would really enjoy that competition. We played the PGA Championship there in August 1977 – it was during the drought of ’77 – and it was firm and very tough. I liked it a lot at that time, and obviously, I have a lot to love about Pebble Beach today. But if it’s firm, with those small greens, that could make it interesting trying to hit the green. Those are the smallest greens on the PGA Tour, like 3,500 square feet on average. Really small. The only thing that helps is that many of those greens are sort of bowled, which would keep the ball somewhere on the putting surface or not far off. So, you might see more than a fair share of birdies having to win holes depending on how you play it compared to your opponent. And pars might be good on some occasions, too.


Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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