Son Of A Beach After a wait of more than six months, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am gave birth to a winner

August 23, 1998

Bringing new meaning to the term slow play, the 1998 AT&T Pebble
Beach National Pro-Am finally got its champion on Monday when
Phil Mickelson shot a 67 on a pleasant, overcast day at Pebble
Beach Golf Links for a three-round total of 14-under-par 202, a
stroke better than runner-up Tom Pernice Jr. The round took 6
1/2 months to play.

More than just the climate has changed since the Pro-Am was
postponed on Monday, Feb. 2, due to a particularly virulent
strain of Crosby Weather. Back then Mark O'Meara was dogged by a
history of choking in the majors, Se Ri Pak was an overwhelmed
rookie with an uncertain future, there were five Spice Girls,
and the public was just being introduced to a former White House
intern named Monica Lewinsky. In fact the '98 Pro-Am will surely
go down as the only tournament in history in which a player
struggled through a midlife crisis between the second and third
rounds. Tom Watson, 48, was tied for the lead at 10 under when
the tournament was put on hold. Before it resumed he
acknowledged splitting up with his wife and giving up drinking.
He also won only his second tournament in 11 years, the
MasterCard Colonial in May. Alas, the new Watson had trouble
picking up where the old one had left off, as he shot a
lackluster 73 at Poppy Hills to tumble to a tie for ninth place.

Life has changed for Mickelson too. He breezed to a victory at
the season-opening Mercedes Championships and afterward crowed
that this would be the year he finally won a major. It didn't
happen. After the PGA Championship, in which he finished 34th,
Mickelson said, "I don't know how I'm going to get motivated for
the rest of the year." A day later, standing behind the 18th
green at Pebble, he had found the answer. "This means a lot to
me because up until now this season has been disappointing."

It was this journey back to the future that made the Pro-Am such
mind-bending fun. At what other tournament would the lift, clean
and place rule be in effect on a muggy, 70[degree] day in
mid-August? (The final round had to be played under the
identical rules as the preceding two.) Who would have guessed
that players would be griping about their rotten luck at having
to play Pebble Beach Golf Links instead of Poppy Hills? (Among
the most reviled courses in tournament golf, Poppy was
considered the place to be on Monday because the baked fairways
made all five of its par 5s reachable in two.) Where else could
you feel cursed after making a hole in one? (When the third
round was suspended on Feb. 1, players who were already on the
course had their scores expunged from the records, meaning Neal
Lancaster's ace on Pebble's 12th hole never happened.)

In the bizarro world of the '98 Pro-Am, players had trouble
keeping up with even the most rudimentary details. "I don't even
remember what my swing thought was back then," said Steve
Elkington in the days leading up to the restart.

"I'm not sure what course I'm playing," said Skip Kendall.
(Kendall could be excused for being distracted. Eleven weeks ago
he became a father for the first time, one of 11 Tour players
whose wives have had babies since Feb. 1.)

As a result of the unprecedented makeup date, the Pro-Am lost
much of its star power but gained innumerable sub-plots. O'Meara
(the defending champ), David Duval, Jack Nicklaus, PGA winner
Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods were among the 34 players from the
original field of 168 who withdrew rather than make the
pilgrimage to a tournament they had no chance of winning. (The
ams in the Pro-Am were not invited back.) Many who returned did
so because Pebble now loomed even larger in the money race, for
golfers at the top and the bottom of the list. The Pro-Am's $2.5
million purse is exceeded only by those of the four majors, the
Players Championship and the Tour Championship. Combined with
the PGA Championship's purse, $5.5 million was up for grabs in a
matter of 24 hours.

"A one-day shoot-out for $2.5 million? Bring it on," Scott
McCarron said before the restart. "I'd play in a parking lot for
that kind of money. I mean, you can have a great year in the
span of two days."

Ask Elkington. Since his promising 70-68 to start the Pro-Am
(four shots off the lead), the sweet-swinging Aussie has
suffered through sinus surgery and viral meningitis. Elkington
limped into the PGA without a top-10 finish in his 12 previous
appearances, buried at 166th on the money list with only
$84,025. He came in third at Sahalee to earn $204,000 and then
made $83,750 more for his tie for sixth at Pebble. Not that
money buys happiness.

Moments after signing his scorecard at Sahalee, Elkington was
asked if he was looking forward to Pebble Beach. "Are you
f------ crazy, mate?" he said. "You think I care about Pebble
Beach? I could've just won the PGA Championship."

Woods was even more disdainful of the prospect of returning to
the Pro-Am. "There's no point," he said, a nod to his opening
scores of 76-72, which put him in 143rd place. Woods opted
instead to spend Monday in Portland conducting a youth clinic
for his eponymous foundation. By not showing up at the Pro-Am he
forfeited his chance to win the King of the Swing award, a moldy
Bank of America promotion that gives $100,000 to the player who
earns the most money on the eight-tournament West Coast swing.
(The dough doesn't count toward the official money list.)
Heading into Pebble, Duval was first with $533,663 and Woods
second at $485,600, but the $450,000 Mickelson won on Monday
pushed him to first, with $771,450.

Gee, Tiger, don't you care about $100,000? "Nope."

Some players couldn't afford to be so cavalier. "It's like the
ultimate second chance," said Pernice, who was just two shots
behind the leaders going into the Pro-Am's final round. In the
15 years since Pernice turned pro he has never cracked the top
125 on the Tour's money list, and it doesn't take an economics
degree from UCLA (which Pernice has) to understand that that's a
tough way to make a living. After narrowly squeaking through
last fall's Q school, Pernice made his season debut at the
Pro-Am and started with a strong 67 at Pebble Beach followed by
a 69 at Spyglass Hill, which left him tied for sixth. In 18
tournaments since, he had earned just $87,260, which is barely
enough to cover expenses on Tour. Having failed to qualify for
the PGA, Pernice last weekend stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in
Pacific Grove, a 15-minute drive from Pebble Beach, and played
two practice rounds at Poppy Hills, making him one of about two
dozen players who snuck into town ahead of time for
reconnaissance, including some pros who hustled down from
Seattle after missing the cut at Sahalee. Of the possibilities
the Pro-Am presented, Pernice said, "I wouldn't say it's
do-or-die, but for a guy in my position it's pretty close."
Pernice came to play on Monday, birdieing six of the first 12
holes to bolt to the top of the leader board, but a pair of
jittery bogeys on 14 and 17 dropped him behind Mickelson. On
Poppy's short par-5 18th, Pernice nuked a five-iron second shot
to within 15 feet but failed to convert the eagle putt.

"Hey, I'm thrilled," he said, contemplating $270,000 in
second-place money. "Obviously I wanted to win, but making the
top 125 is such a big first step."

To help induce players to make the trip from Sahalee, the Pro-Am
offered $2,000 in unofficial money to those who would miss the
cut--the cut being an abstract concept here; only the low 70
players and ties after the three rounds were paid official money
from the purse, the same number as would have made the cut had
the tournament gone four rounds. The tournament also chartered a
737 to fly the players, free of charge, from Seattle to Monterey
following the PGA, and arranged special hotel rates for Sunday
night as well as cheap airfare on Monday evening to Denver for
this week's Sprint International. "It's nauseating listening to
some of these guys bitch about the supposed hassles," says Rocco
Mediate. "It's simple: If you don't want to deal with it, don't
come. Personally, I hope nobody but me shows up."

Mediate didn't get his wish. On Sunday night at SeaTac
International Airport, a mob of players could be found scattered
around gate N14, modeling innumerable variations of the
unofficial uniform of the PGA Tour: jeans, tucked-in golf shirt,
leather loafers (no socks). Killing time, Corey Pavin slouched
in a chair reading the latest Ludlum thriller. David Frost wired
his laptop into a pay phone and checked his E-mail. John Cook
tested the skateboard belonging to his 12-year-old son, Jason,
who was going to be his caddie the next day. A sand wedge away a
gaggle of players refueled in the cocktail lounge. Casting an
eye at the assembled crew, Kendall stated the obvious: "This is
a weird scene."

Many of the pros had arranged for their own transportation, not
surprising considering what picky travelers Tour players are.
Among those who chartered a private jet was Tim Herron, who was
tied with Watson going into the final round. Herron got off to a
solid start at the PGA (73-70) but after a third-round 79 he was
heard grumbling about wanting to withdraw, especially because
Watson had missed the cut at Sahalee (for the first time in his
career, Watson missed the cut in all four majors) and was
spending the weekend tuning up at Poppy Hills. Instead, Herron
drew the first tee time on Sunday, at the unholy hour of 6:48
a.m., and blazed around Sahalee in less than three hours. "We'll
be at Spy by 1:30," his caddie, Gordon (Harpo) Hunley, said as
they came off the 18th. That was eight hours before the charter
landed in Monterey. It didn't matter. Herron shot a 74 and
finished 19th.

At 8 a.m. on Monday the first threesomes teed off from the 1st
and 10th holes at all three courses. A gallery estimated at
5,000 showed up, not including the 600 or so volunteers who
played hooky from work. Spread over three courses, the crowd
looked pretty sparse, especially in the absence of any
concession stands or bleachers. Adding to the low-key vibe was
the TV vacuum--not even the Golf Channel was interested in
trying to cope with the logistics of a three-venue finish. With
only two scoreboards per course, leader board information was
limited.

The last leader board Mickelson saw was near the 16th green and
at that point he was 12 under, two back of Pernice. Mickelson
holed a 30-footer for birdie, but played the final two holes
unaware that Pernice had coughed up the lead. After parring 17,
Mickelson took advantage of the 18th's firm fairway and ripped
one of the longest drives he had ever hit on Pebble's famed
finishing hole. After a lengthy deliberation, he went for the
green, hitting a two-iron 241 yards into the wind, landing
pin-high. Two putts later he had the winning birdie and his 13th
Tour victory.

As Mickelson rolled triumphantly up the 18th fairway he had to
avoid the day-old tire tracks of some of the world's most
valuable classic cars, which on Sunday had been displayed there
as part of the 49th Concours d'Elegance, the most hoity-toity of
car shows. Monday was no less frenetic. Mickelson wasn't even
afforded a trophy ceremony on the 18th green, as the Pebble
Beach Company was eager to start another tournament that
afternoon for 80 well-heeled customers.

With a nod to all the zaniness--6 1/2 months' worth--Mickelson
said, "It seems like a miracle that we finally got this thing in."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID MADISON Show time Fans flocked to the 18th fairway at Pebble on Sunday--for a car show. [Vintage car on display among crowd at Pebble Beach golf course] COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Have fun, will travel By the time a couple of caddies raised the roof on Brad Faxon (above right) on the Tour charter, Watson had put in some work at Poppy Hills. [Two men opening overhead storage bin behind Brad Faxon in airplane] B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID MADISON [Tom Watson practicing chip shot] COLOR PHOTO: ERIC RISBERG/AP Lucky number Mickelson won his 13th Tour title. [Phil Mickelson clenching fist]

"I wouldn't say it's do-or-die," said Pernice, "but for a guy in
my position it's pretty close."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)