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Pebble Beach Experiment How difficult is a doctored Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of this month’s US Open? HK Golfer contributor and 9-handicapper Scott Resch went on a quest to find out

Those words rang loud in my head as I stepped over a 12-foot, downhill putt on the 376-yard, par-four opening hole. Fearing a comebacker of at least the same distance, I stroked it with all the force of drizzle. The ball stopped about a foot short of the cup. Interesting, I thought. Not national championship speed, after all. The previous day’s rain — an anomaly this time of year at Pebble — had made a noticeable impact. But the USGA is good at nothing if not implementing devilish cosmetic changes to an Open venue. And at the par-four third, a short dogleg left, one addition the organization is famous for — growing the rough up around bunkers — sank its claws into me. The knee-high fescue not only gobbled up my third shot, but also my fourth. I walked away with a triple bogey seven and a bigtime reality check after having eagled the second. At the daunting par-five sixth, it was Mike’s turn to feel the wrath of Davis & Co. After a pulled drive into the graduated rough, the thick blades strangled his hybrid, causing a knuckleball into the ocean. “Wow,” he said. “That was weird.” Even stranger: The fact that I’d made the turn in 41, after managing bogeys at the seventh, eighth and ninth — a trio of treacherous holes along the cliff. My mind started to race, and George’s caddie, Eddie, could tell.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY COLIN RESCH

“The knee gobbled up-high fescue not only also my fou my third shot, but with a trip rth. I walked away a big-time le bogey seven and reality che ck…” Monterey Majesty: The seventh at Pebble Beach is one of golf's all-time best short par threes; the writer on his way to a respectable bogey on the hole (inset)

Welcome to paradise,” the starter said as I handed him our foursome’s proof of check-in. No one could argue. Not on this glorious Monterey Peninsula afternoon. The sky was blue, the wind was imperceptible, the temperature an ideal 18 degrees Celsius. SoCal conditions in NoCal. But I hadn’t flown 16 hours on Delta Air Lines from Asia - and then another two by car from San Francisco - to bask in the weather. I was here to find out how a 9-handicap game would translate at Pebble Beach 36 days before it was to welcome the world’s best golfers for the 110th edition of the US Open — the Toughest Test in Golf. The other three players in my group — Mike, a 1-handicap from Aspen; George, a 28 from Boston; and my brother Colin, a 12 who lives in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge — were keen to discover how they would fare, too… although not all to the same degree. 58

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“I’ll be happy to make a couple pars,” said George. “Heck, I’ll be happy no matter what. Isn’t this place wonderful?” The day before we arrived at the first tee of America’s most hallowed golf ground, Mike Davis, USGA senior director of rules and competitions, talked at length in front of a room full of media about how rigorous Pebble Beach would play come June 17. He was especially candid about the greens, which he called “maybe the scariest we've ever had for a US Open. They are absolutely the smallest greens in major championship golf.” HKGOLFER.COM

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Getting There Scott Resch travelled with the support of Delta Air Lines (www. delta.com), which flies between Hong Kong and San Francisco (via Tokyo) daily. International standard car hire is available at San Francisco International Airport (www.flysfo.com), approximately two hours from Pebble Beach Golf Links.

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“You’ve gotta keep your focus out here,” he said as we walked down the long par-four tenth, waves crashing below the crag to our right. “You can’t go to sleep and start staring at the views.” I heeded Eddie’s advice and stuck to my routine. I also leaned heavily on the knowledge of my brother — who played here the day before — at the fourteenth, a 572-yard par-five that is both long and tricky. “It’s one of the two toughest par-fives in the U.S. Open rota, along with twelve at Oakmont,” said Davis. “First of all it’s a blind tee shot. The second shot you've got to make sure you get it in the fairway because when you get to that third shot, I think it's definitely the hardest shot at Pebble Beach in terms of needing to be exact. The way that little green — at least the left side of it — sits up on a pencil… players are going to have issues.” Tour pro Paul Goydos already has. In February, during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he took a nine there to fall out of contention. Mike carded the same number by failing to find the dance floor’s flat spot on three successive chips. “No wonder you applauded

my fourth shot to 20 feet,” I said to Eddie. “That green is nasty.” I stood seven-over for my round as I teed it up at 15, a rather short (396 yards) par four. I wasn’t only on pace to shoot my handicap, I was four closing pars from breaking 80. But a long, deep gully in front of the tee box and a yardage card illustrating a row of gnarly bunkers on the left side of the fairway can wreak havoc on a hack’s psyche. My drive was evidence — a soaring slice OB right that is most likely still in a ditch along 17 Mile Drive. The double bogey six erased any legitimate chance I had of a 79, but no matter — it’s how you finish that counts. I played 16 to perfection, then took advantage of a front right pin placement (read: accessible) on the 178-yard, parthree seventeenth, where Tom Watson famously chipped in for birdie to beat Jack Nicklaus in 1982. I knocked a 6-iron to the apron, ran the putt up to a foot and tapped in. “You’ll see a lot of the pros play it that way, too,” said Eddie. “The green is so shallow that if you go at the flag you risk being in either the front or rear traps.” At the final tee, we all convened to do what Eddie guarded against earlier — look at the views. How could you not, especially on a day like this? About 30 meters away, on the sand-colored boulders that separate fairway from ocea n, a clutch of sea ls lay motionless, their skin shimmering from the setting sun. The sky was still mostly clear. The breeze no stronger than when we started. Inspired, I unleashed my best drive of the day, just right of the two Cypress trees — another USGA addition — in In trouble at the middle of the fairway. The the ninth... ball ended up in a bunker, but at least I didn’t have to contend with those trees — I had a clear line to a comfortable lay-up area. I got it there with a flushed 5-iron, then drew an 8-iron over the front right bunker. My brother gave me one last read on a putt, which I left about an inch short. Never mind. It was a solid five. Good for a par, and a round of 81. Nine-over. Right on my number. It could indeed be done. At least in friendly conditions. And with a helluva lot of counsel. “But hey,” said Mark Lavin, a former teaching pro for Pebble Beach Company that I met for a beer afterward, “it’s still Pebble. You gotta play Soaking up the atmosphere smart, you gotta hit shots, you gotta get lucky. at the famous eighteenth Take [that score] and run!” HKGOLFER.COM

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