AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Preview

Josh Culp
·9 min read

The PGA TOUR stays out West as they head from Arizona to California for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

This is a long-running event that has been taking place annually since the 1937 edition (with a four-year gap from 1943 to 1946). I think there was something pretty serious happening in the world at that time.

The event was played at Rancho Santa Fe GC back in the inaugural edition but it's now split between courses. It's been a multi-course event since 1947 after World War II had ended.

Historically, they've played with celebrity partners with a pro-am leaderboard running alongside the main event. They used three courses to get all the players and their amateur partners through before sunset.

We will see a slight change to the format this year with no pro-am format due to COVID-19 policies. It will remain a full field of 156 golfers but they won't need all three courses with no amateur playing partners this year. Instead, the first 36 holes will be played at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course. Sorry Monterey Peninsula fans, that course has been tossed out of the equation, at least for one year.

It's a welcome relief to see a full field, for those lower on the priority ranking. Last week's Phoenix Open field was one of the toughest non-invitational fields to crack they'll see all year.

The Courses

Pebble Beach Golf Links (Host)

This is one of the most iconic courses in the world. It's on a lot of bucket lists for golfers across the globe.

Pebble Beach is a coastal course that plays just over 7,000 yards (7,051). Add in the sea-level air and it plays a bit longer than the raw yardage.

It's not long by any means, though. However, it can beat you up if you're not careful. The field average has been over-par in six of the last 12 editions played. In 2014 it played incredibly tough (+1.39 RTP) and the following year it played incredibly easy (-1.76 RTP). Other than that, it usually sits between 71.4 and 72.6 in terms of field scoring average.

Tiny greens are the main defense but coastal winds are also a major factor.

The course can be considered a second (and third) shot course. Golfers average 73% GIR from the fairways and that number drops to just 53% when missing the fairway. That 20% differential is very small so what a golfer does off-the-tee is slightly less relevant than a normal TOUR stop. Iron play and short game is usually the key to contending here at Pebble Beach.

I talked about the greens being tiny, but I may have undersold it. They are about as tiny as they come (3,500 square feet on average). The tiny targets are heavily guarded by bunkers and they feature poa annua greens which can get tricky, especially late in the day. Get used to seeing plenty of three-putts if you are following along on ShotTracker this week.

Spyglass Hill Golf Course

This course will be used just once for each golfer this week. It is a par 72 that plays to 7,041 yards on the scorecard.

Similar to the host course, this is also short by PGA TOUR standards. There are five par 4s that play under 410 yards. That means a lot of wedges and short irons for golfers that are driving it well this week.

It sounds easy on paper, being a par 72 that barely stretches past 7,000 yards. The scoring reflects otherwise. Over the last 12 years the field scoring average here is 72.21 so it plays slightly tougher than par most years.

There are 62 bunkers littered around the course, water comes into play on four holes.

The greens are smaller than TOUR average, sitting at just 5,000 square feet on average while the TOUR average sits closer to 6,500 square feet.

Like we saw above, the turf conditions are similar with ryegrass and poa from tee-to-green with poa annua putting surfaces.

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Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Jordan Spieth: "last year was the first year where I lowered my expectations on the greens and just accepted hitting putts at the right speed and putting them around the right line, and if they fell, they fell. If they didn’t, move on and hit as many greens in regulation as possible."

Phil Mickelson: "the greens being poa annua are what I grew up on, so it’s a grass I feel comfortable. Not just putting on, but chipping on, chipping into and hitting full shots into. It can be challenging for guys if they’re not used to it. It’s something that I’ve become very comfortable with over the years."

Justin Rose: "unfortunately, got on to that wrong side where you started to maybe see the imperfection and it is all about attitude sometimes on poa annua."

Steve Stricker [on why he's skipped the event so many times]: "conditions, soft, bumpy greens, cold weather, not really my cup of tea."

Weather conditions and the poa annua greens are usually the key talking points. Putting well on these surfaces can often be mental so look for golfers that have rolled their rock well here in the past.

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

Torrey Pines
Riviera CC
TPC Scottsdale
TPC San Antonio
Colonial CC

The correlation seems to fall in location (Torrey Pines, Riv, Scottsdale) or windy conditions and/or second-shot courses (San Antonio, Colonial).

The Weather

Thursday: Cloudy with a high of 57 degrees. Showers possible in the afternoon. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.

Friday: Morning showers possible with a high of 60 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.

If the early forecast holds it would be tough to go PM-AM and deal with potential rain during both rounds. We kinow that forecasts change a lot on a day-by-day basis so keep an eye out on this one heading into Thursday. The winds look to pick up over the weekend to make things spicy.

Golfers to Watch

Jordan Spieth
What a week for Spieth in Phoenix who found himself in contention at TPC Scottsdale. It had been a while since we've seen him in contention on a Sunday afternoon. The big question mark is where does he go from here? He's a past champ here (2017) so that should make him a popular pick in weekly leagues.

Dustin Johnson
He just made quick work of the Saudi International field and now he'll try to keep his foot on the gas after a long flight. DJ is a two-time champ at this event (2009, 2010). He has six other top 10s on his tournament resume, in 13 total starts here. Also in his favor, Monterey Peninsula was usually the course that tripped him up while the field usually feasted there. He will be glad to see that course out of the rota this week. Some guys get all the breaks. UPDATE: Dustin Johnson withdrew from the event on Monday evening.

Patrick Cantlay
He's a California kid so this is a comfortable event for him. He tossed together a T9 during his 2013 debut and has returned with finishes of T48-T35-T11 over the last three years. Maybe not the sharpest tournament resume for a man of his caliber. More importantly, he arrives with a win, T17, T13, and a runner-up finish in his last four starts.

Will Zalatoris
Everyone go ahead and point their finger at me and laugh. I was the guy that thought Zalatoris would show some rust at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first event since the holiday break. Instead, he twirled a top-10 finish and followed it up with a top 20 last week in Phoenix. He was primed for an even better finish but lost 3.4 strokes putting on Sunday at TPC Scottsdale to settle for a T17. The youngster is a ball-striking machine and will be a serious fantasy option any time he pegs it.

Jason Day
We just saw Spieth climb out of the dumpster at the Waste Management, could Day take motivation from that? Just a few years ago, these two were going head-to-head for titles nearly every other week. They both hit a rough patch over the last few seasons. Working in Day's favor is his resume at this event. The Aussie is 11-for-11 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with nine of those doubling as top 15s.

Brandt Snedeker
He was sounding confident about the direction of his game in the fall but returned from the holiday break with back-to-back missed cuts. He rebounded with a T32 at the Farmers Insurance Open. Now he'll take on another course with poa annua greens which is usually a specialty of his. Not a safe play by any means but someone to consider if you are leaning on course history.

Paul Casey
The Englishman posted a runner-up finish here in 2019 and also won two weeks ago on the European Tour. Converging trends suggest he may be a name to circle this week.

Ranking the Field

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Patrick Cantlay
3. Daniel Berger
4. Will Zalatoris
5. Paul Casey
6. Jason Day
7. Brian Harman
8. Cameron Tringale
9. Kevin Streelman
10. Cameron Davis
11. Sam Burns
12. Si Woo Kim
13. James Hahn
14. Matt Jones
15. Jordan Spieth
16. Joel Dahmen
17. Doug Ghim
18. Max Homa
19. Chris Kirk
20. Francesco Molinari