The Pebble Beach Golf Links have provided the setting for many great occasions and many great stories since they opened for play in 1919 — 100 years ago.
Johnny Miller, a recently retired World Golf Hall of Fame member, fell in love with Pebble when he won the 1968 California State Amateur, and it proved to be an early indication of Miller’s greatness that was to follow.
Another great occasion was the display Tiger put on by winning the 2000 U.S. Open Championship by a jaw-dropping 15 shots. I can’t find anyone who thinks that record will ever be broken.
And then there is the story of Andy Dillard, a journeyman Tour pro who barely made enough to cover his expenses. Dillard decided that he would try to qualify for the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble. After successfully getting through the Memphis regional qualifier, he arrived at Pebble Beach with very little money to cover his travel expenses and definitely not enough to hire a caddie or even enough for food. But he wrote a $1500 check with little money in the bank that the USGA cashed, in hopes of earning prize money to cover it. And then the magic began.
Dillard started out with birdies on #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6 and then Bob Estes, who was paired with Dillard, casually asked him if he realized that he had just birdied the first six holes. Then the golf gods stepped in and Dillard bogeyed #7 but finished the day tied for second with a 67. He went on to make the cut and make $18,069, which was a fortune to Dillard, and to this day, he still holds the record for making birdies on the opening six holes of a U.S. Open Championship.
All the talk coming into the 119th U.S. Open Championship was about how Brooks Koepka could accomplish something no American has ever done, and that’s to win three U.S. Opens in a row. In fact, it has only been done once by a Scottish golfer named Willie Anderson and that was over 100 years ago. While Koepka didn’t achieve that particular record, he did make it into the history books by becoming the first player ever to shoot four rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open without winning (69, 69, 68, 68). In the end, only one thing kept Koepka from achieving his three-peat and that was Gary Woodland.
Woodland has won three times on the PGA Tour and has held the 54-hole lead seven times in Tour events but none of those three victories came as a result of being the 54-hole leader. However, the story changed during the 119th U.S. Open. He had the lead after the first 36 holes, after 54 holes, and after 72 holes.
Incredible as it may seem, Woodland played four rounds at Pebble without a single three-putt. He actually missed the green in regulation 20 times but managed to save par 16 of those times. Quite a performance.
His previous best finish in our national championship was 23rd, but with rounds of 68, 65, 69, and 69 for a 13 under par total, Woodland is the new 2019 U.S. Open Champion by three shots over Koepka. By the way, when Tiger won by 15 in 2000 he finished at 12 under par.
Woodland actually began his college career as a basketball player, but it didn’t take him long before he realized his true passion was golf. There’s no doubt in my mind that while holding the U.S. Open trophy on the 72nd hole that he definitely knew he had made the right decision.
With three Major Championships now in the books, there’s only one left, but it has the potential to be one of the best ever. The Open Championship will be returning to Portrush in Northern Ireland after a 68-year gap. The Irish and Northern Irish alike are “very keen on their golf” and when tickets were put on sale last fall, they sold out in a matter of days. Recently, some additional tickets were made available, and those were gone in a matter of hours.
The home crowd will be massive and will no doubt be solidly behind their Irish boys . . . Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, and Shane Lowry. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.