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Pebble Beach lacks its usual appeal without amateurs

Sure, the views are stunning on TV, but PGA Tour’s annual stop on California’s Monterey Peninsula feels like too many other events

It seemed odd watching the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday.

The weather was cool and a bit overcast, which is not unusual for February along the central California coast.

The views of Pebble Beach Golf Links were as good as ever.

The biggest difference, and what separates Pebble Beach from other PGA Tour events, is the inclusion of amateurs and celebrities for the first three days before the final-round cut.

With 50 PGA Tour events on the 2020-21 schedule, and most of them 72-hole stroke-play formats, adding something different to the season makes a tournament more compelling. 

For years, the annual winter West Coast Swing had been almost like baseball's spring training, with the regular season effectively starting when the Tour traverses from west to east to tee it up in Florida.

But the trip to the Monterey Peninsula was the jewel on the West Coast because of the pro-am format. So, watching the Pebble Beach event without spectators and amateur participants could not be offset by the beauty of the Pacific coastline. It seemed too much like the same golf product televised week in and week out.

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Obviously, COVID-19 and the safety protocols in California forced the format change, which is only appropriate given the state’s significant challenges with the pandemic: a national-high 3.45 million infections, with a U.S.-high 46,000 deaths. No one should be blamed for the change, but it doesn’t mean that golf fans have to watch it, either.

Plus, the field is not nearly as strong as in years past, with only five of the top 50 in the world ranking. Patrick Cantlay, at No. 11 in the world, is the highest-ranked competitor. Cantlay lived up to the top billing by opening with a course-record-tying 10-under 62 for the first-round lead (scores).

Though it’s nice to see Jordan Spieth following up his good play last week in Phoenix with a 7-under 65 and a share of fourth place, that in itself is enough to pull me away from the fireplace and a good book.

I’ve always maintained that professional golf, with the exception of the four major championships, is a good reason for a mid-afternoon nap. Every week always seems like Groundhog Day, with too few exceptions.

Any Sunday's final round can be compelling, but Thursday, Friday and Saturday usually are yawners, unless there is an additional reason to watch, which was lacking this year at Pebble Beach.

Hopefully, the world will get vaccinated and next year the amateurs will be back so that Pebble Beach once again can show off its unique format.

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