You cannot take a divot out of greatness at very many places. You cannot sing at the Met or whip up a little something in the back at Spago, but you can come to Pebble Beach, the world's greatest muni course, and snap-hook a few souvenirs to the sea lions, just like Jack and Arnie. In fact, Jack Nicklaus once said that if he had only one round left to play, he would play it at Pebble Beach. Basically, if you haven't played Pebble Beach, you're just practicing.
Every 10 years the USGA comes to its senses and to Pebble Beach, and brings the U.S. Open with it. Pebble Beach Opens are where legends go to prove it. Twenty years ago Nicklaus was the best player in the game. He came to Pebble and won. Ten years ago Tom Watson was the best player in the game. He came to Pebble and won. Today Fred Couples is the best player in the game, but if he wants to come to Pebble and win, he'll have to go through Mark O'Meara. Couples and O'Meara turned pro on the same day in 1980, but Couples is 0 for life at Pebble while O'Meara has won there five times—four AT&Ts (nè Crosby) and one California Amateur title. Only Nicklaus, with three Crosbys, an Open and a U.S. Amateur crown, can match that.
The 1992 U.S. Open starts Thursday, June 18. Who better to ask how to win it than O'Meara? You taking notes, Fred?
Number 1—373 yards, par 4
June 14, 1992
What with that wild fluttering of butterflies in your stomach, you will absolutely, positively shank your first shot of the day. This is why it is essential to hire Dawg as your caddie. The 45-year-old Dawg (so named for constantly juggling at least three girlfriends) does not allow mulligans off the number 1 tee. However, he does allow "breakfast balls." Dawg is not totally without civility.
Unfortunately, tournament players bring their own caddies and therefore do not know the pleasures of breakfast balls. One morning, in the 1987 state amateur final, one of the combatants hit a weed-whacker of a drive, bounced it off a cart-path curb, from which it ricocheted high and right and fell directly down a chimney at one of the nearby hotel condos, clattering madly as it made its way down the flue. The young man went on to lose, but the renters of the condo were impressed. Boy, that's some wake-up call they have here, huh, Gladys?
"I like to hit a little draw into the hill there," O'Meara says. "And you don't want to lose your second shot to the right. The rough is going to be long around the greens for the Open."
Number 2—502 yards, par 5
The only hole at Pebble Beach that would be right at home at the Dubuque Country Club. Dull as C-SPAN2. No crashing surf. Most pros reach it in two. "If you hit anything onto the front of the green," says O'Meara, "you're guaranteed a 4."
Number 3—398 yards, par 4
Still no surf, but at least you can hear the roar from here. Hook it around the tree-lined barranca and you've got a nine-iron in. "This is a hole you definitely want to make birdie on," says O'Meara. This is also a hole you definitely want to live on. The house that backs up to 3 was rented for the week of the Open for $25,000.
Number 4—327 yards, par 4
Now you get a sniff of your $200 greens fee. Uphill and shortish, but bunkered left, and you get your first breath-gulping sight of Stillwater Cove to your right. Hit a good shot and you'll hear the seals applauding. Well, it sounds like applause. The noise is actually made by sea otters who crack shellfish against the rocks. At how many holes could you see that? At how many zooos could you see that?
O'Meara: "It's too early in the round to hit a driver, too much risk. Hit a four-wood or a two-iron, then you've just got a sand iron in. You'd like to have a 3 here. I mean, sand iron."
Number 5—166 yards, par 3
Number 5 used to be known as the world's only dogleg par-3, thanks to a huge eucalyptus tree that hung over the tee and insisted on a draw onto the green. That all ended one day when former Pebble Beach owner Marvin Davis couldn't for the life of him steer his ball past the tree. "The next day," Dawg says, "they had a crew out here cuttin' that sucker back."
Still, this is the most beautiful inland hole on the course, and it can be a killer, especially on the green, which is just slightly steeper than the third turn at Talladega.
O'Meara: "I like to take it right over the bunker here and hope I'm below the pin." You can say that twice. Ben Crenshaw, the David Copperfield of putting, once putted his way to a 9 here.
Number 6—516 yards, par 5
Here begins Carmel Hell, the most beautiful and terrifying five-hole stretch of golf in the world. This hole calls for a third shot that just doesn't come in most people's bags: uphill, careful not to hit it off the Sound of Music cliff to the right or the bunker to the left, to a green you can't even sec.
"Now, number 6 is a hole" says O'Meara. "I have to hit two pretty good shots to reach it, a driver and a four-wood. Freddy and Davis [Love] don't have to [because of their extraordinary length]. I don't even want to think what John Daly will hit in here." Do the words 17-Mile Drive have any meaning for you?
Number 7—107 yards, par 3
I'll swim nude in melted Mallomars if this isn't the prettiest golf hole in the world. It is a tiny waif of a downhill hole, no bigger than a thumbprint, but mess with it and it will leave fang marks on your scorecard. It is a hole that can't possibly be, in this age of Big Bertha drivers, kryptonite shafts and NASA-powered balls, but somehow is. Number 7 is a little orphan that managed to squeeze through golf's legs. The green is guarded on all sides by bunkers and, beyond them on two sides, by the Pacific Ocean. Look over the cliff on one side of the tee and you will see at least 50 seals and their pups, tanning.
"I don't know why this hole can be so hard," O'Meara says. "You get to tee it up. It's not like you started with a bad lie or anything. It's just the intimidation factor. It's what makes Peeble so tough. It's the beauty of the hole, the majesty of it. It just seems like you're hitting it right off the precipice of the world."
Depending on how the wind is blowing, it can be a delicate sand wedge sent off with a kiss and a lullaby, or a four-iron punched hard with a prayer and a cuss. Bing Crosby once hit a driver here. Former pro Eddie Merrins made a hole in one with a three-iron. Sam Snead once putted it down the hill and into the bunker for a very happy bogey.
Number 8—431 yards, par 4
Playing number 8 after number 7 is like leaving Cindy Crawford for Claudia Schiffer. It is without argument the most paralyzingly gorgeous par 4 in the galaxy. Nicklaus calls the second shot here his favorite in the world. And Arnold Palmer calls this hole the best par-4 he has ever played.
From the tee, Dawg will tell you to aim at the picture window in the Firestone mansion on the hill. A three-wood should put you near a calamitous 125-foot cliff that looms about 250 yards from the tee, and which you will be required to hit over if you would like to enjoy par.
After your drive, you're probably left with a Maalox 180-yard iron that must cross the cliff, the surf below, the beach, the opposing cliff and a bunker before it finally reaches a green protected by bunkers on three sides. "This is what we call a four 4s hole," O'Meara says. "You make four 4s for the week on this hole and you're happy."
The second shot is an E-ticket ride whether your handicap is 36 or plus 6. As it sails and drifts, drifts and sails, so do your innards, for you can never be sure whether you have hit a shot that is going to alight on the beach, the green or the box of ham sandwiches in the snack cart 50 yards behind it.
Before the days of Dawg or curbs on the cart paths, it was quite easy to drive your cart right over the cliff to your death. It happened once. Recently, a man hit his second shot just over the edge and decided to hunt for it. Unfortunately, he found it. He got on his knees, grabbed onto some bushes for security, sttttttretched and finally...picked up the ball. But then he spied two other balls nearby. He reached, lost his grip and fell all the way down. Miraculously, it was low tide and he landed between two soft mounds, breaking only an arm and a leg, which, on the over-under of "limbs likely to be broken from a 125-foot cliff fall," would definitely be the under.
Number 9—464 yards, par 4
This hole is harder than trigonometry. Hubert Green once said, "The farther you hit your drive, the worse shape you're in," and it's true. Pacific on the right, bunkers left. If you want a flat lie, hit your drive short, but then you've got 210 yards to a green no bigger than a good-sized flower box. There certainly wasn't enough room here for the late, great Tony Lema, who, as legend has it, once fell 18 feet down the cliff after having a few. It is said that he never spilled a drop.
O'Meara tries to hit the left side of the fairway and hopes that the roll doesn't carry him into the right rough—that's how banked the fairway is. "But that second shot is no bargain, cither," he says. "You've got to get a long iron up from a downhill sidehill lie. You've got that high grass on the hillside for anything short or long or right." But other than that, cake.
Number 10—426 yards, par 4
Whatever you do, don't keep your head down. If you do, you'll miss the nude sunbathers that sometimes adorn the coves of Carmel Beach just below the jagged cliffs to the right. It is for this reason that veteran caddie Foot (so named because no client of his has had a bad lie yet) will stroll casually over to the the cliff side even if your ball is on the bunker side. Caddies do not live by golf alone.
O'Meara: "This is a great driving hole. You've got about a five-yard alleyway." That is why, for O'Meara, the front nine is to survive, but "the tournament is won on the back side."
Number 11—384 yards, par 4
It's a dull dogleg right that 1) gives you time to reload your camera and 2) begs to be birdied. "Three is nice here," says O'Meara. Probably the worst hole on the course. Then again, being the worst hole at Pebble is like being the ugliest Miss America.
202 yards, par 3
Another straightforward hole, but paranoically bunkered. A 2 here is very hard. And a 4 shouldn't happen. O'Meara just wants his 3, and he's outta here.
392 yards, par 4
A very good place to lose a watch, a shoe or an Open. The sea gulls set themselves up about 100 feet above the snack cart, which rests between the tee on number 9 and this green. That way, when you leave your aforementioned ham sandwich in your cart, the sea gulls have plenty of time to swoop down and steal it. Sea gulls, though, are not very picky types and will take whatever even looks like food. One time when a man put his $10,000 gold Rolex in a plastic bag on the dash of his cart, a seagull snatched it. "And you know sea gulls," says Foot. "It's not like they're going to bring it back once they realize it isn't a ham sandwich." No, the gull simply let the watch drop to the bottom of Stillwater Cove.
Almost as pesky as the gulls is a green so hellaciously sloped that it is hard to get your cleats to stop, much less your ball. If you're in the Open and you can't speed-putt, you'll be back home with your family by Saturday. "This is where you better turn on your A game," O'Meara says.
Number 14—565 yards, par 5
A long, terrific hole requiring a faded drive and the putting nerves of a teenager. Palmer once made a 9 on this hole by hitting two balls off the same tree out of bounds on the right. That night a wicked storm uprooted the tree. Arnie has friends in very high places.
Someone seems to have buried a single-family home under the left side of this green, making it the hardest to putt at Pebble. Danny Edwards once six-putted here.
O'Meara: "This is a par hole. The pin is usually on the left side, so you've got to keep it up there. Get your par and get out."
Number 15—397 yards, par 4
O'Meara has been known to spontaneously combust here. Trees framing the tec shot give you an opening no bigger than a largish bay window, and sometimes O'Meara doesn't make it. He made 7 here at the 1990 AT&T, but won anyway. One time when he didn't win, he sliced his tee shot out onto 17-Mile Drive. "No problem," he says. "We get our balls free."
Number 16—402 yards, par 4
More guys choke here than on Saturday morning wrestling. The green is bordered on three sides by cypress and fronted by a barranca. In the final round of the 1972 Crosby, Johnny Miller, in his own words, "hit the perfect shank." He lost to Nicklaus. Hale Irwin, in his 1984 AT&T playoff with Jim Nelford, hit "the worst tee ball of my life" smack into a very short bunker. But Irwin stepped in the bunker and pured a two-iron—a two-iron!—more than 200 yards to within nine feet for a birdie and a win.
O'Meara: "You can't hit a driver here or you'll have a sidehill, downhill lie." He hits a four-wood, which leaves him about an eight-iron. Then he likes to chili-dip a 15-foot chip and sink the 12-foot recovery putt for par—just the way he did earlier this year to beat Jeff Sluman in a playoff. Hey, it's a tradition.
Number 17—209 yards, par 3
Here stands the most battered flagstick in golf. In 1972, Nicklaus was holding a two-shot lead over Bruce Crampton on Sunday when he made the pin do a Watusi with a one-iron. Witnesses say the ball might have gone through the back of the green—a sure bogey—if it hadn't struck the stick. Instead, Nicklaus brushed in a two-incher for a birdie and the win.
In '82, Watson dented the stick a bit, too. Tied with Nicklaus on Sunday, Watson hit his three-iron 20 feet left of the pin and eight feet above it into the rough. Not even with a parachute could you make this next shot stop near the hole. But Watson stepped up to the ball and made maybe the most famous shot in American golf history. He chipped it deliriously, impossibly, incredibly into the cup and went on to his greatest U.S. victory.
O'Meara: "Club selection is everything here because the green is so narrow." Tell it to Arnie. He made a 9 here in the '64 Crosby after airmailing his tee shot over the green and onto those rocks. Up in the TV booth, analyst Jimmy Demaret ruminated on the situation. "If he elects to take a penalty," Demaret said, "his nearest drop would be Honolulu."
Number 18—548 yards, par 5
This hole is so famous that people who don't even know what it's for come to see it. Once a month or so, head pro R.J. Harper removes visitors who have laid a blanket down in the seaside bunker and made themselves a picnic.
The hole itself is no picnic. You must hit a gentle draw off the tee or you'll be in someone's backyard. But don't make it too big, which is what Irwin did when he won in 1984. Trailing Nelford by a single stroke, he fish-hooked one into the ocean. For some reason the ocean spit it back out and onto the fairway, enabling Irwin to make birdie and force a playoff. How come that doesn't happen with Rolexes?
O'Meara: "My swing thought is: Don't snap-hook it into the Pacific." Sometimes that's not easy. O'Meara came here leading the 1990 AT&T with his pro-am partner, Bob O'Meara, his father. Bob stepped up to the tee just ahead of Mark and snap-hooked one into the ocean.
After an awkward silence, the father said, "Son, do you mind if I just pick up on this hole?"
Bob did just that, and had a very good vantage point as his son laced one down the middle and won. Could Mark O'Meara win at Pebble this week? He has missed three straight U.S. Open cuts, but none were at Pebble. "If there is one place you'd like to win an Open," he says, "wouldn't this be it?"
Number 19—varying yardage
Pebble has three of these in which to rinse your sorrows, and it's no wonder. Pebble Beach could drive Father Mulcahy to drink. Nicklaus himself once shot 45 on the back. And there was the time Dave Marr had his head in his hands after a horrendous round at the Crosby, looking like a man who had seen Mike Wallace and the IRS in the same day. Just then somebody told Marr that some poor slob had shot a 19-over 91 for the day.
"Really?" asked Marr. "Where did he make his birdies?"