Though a low fog clung to the ground along Hwy 1 through Sand City and Monterey this morning, reducing visibility enough to slow morning traffic, the sun was shining at Pebble Beach Golf Links as the last day of practice rounds for the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am got underway. The sun shone all day, with light breezes keeping enough of a chill in the air to remind players and spectators alike that it is still wintertime – or what passes for winter here on the Central Coast. Greens and fairways were running firm and fast; at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, a mile or so up the road from Pebble Beach, they were noticeably faster than last year, as Padraig Harrington noted during a post-round interview.
As pleasant as it is to play or watch golf under these idyllic conditions, just let a storm front blow through, ramping up the winds and dampening the course, and the players will find themselves facing an entirely different trio of golf courses when competition starts.
Over the sixty-six years during which the Monterey Peninsula has hosted the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (formerly the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-Am) the region has gained a well-earned reputation for serving up a smörgåsbord of changing weather conditions. In the late January/early February timeframe in which the tournament has been held since 1947, the weather can vary widely, not only from year to year, but from day to day during the tournament. This phenomenon is known locally as “Crosby weather”.
Professional golfers do more than just play eighteen holes during a practice round. They use the time on the course to evaluate greens, testing speed and break from a variety of different spots on the greens and rolling putts to anticipated hole locations; and to get a feel for fairway run. The inconsistent weather can make the usefulness of practice rounds somewhat dubious, as the changing conditions make the courses play significantly differently than they did during practice rounds as green speeds change, fairway runout varies, and changing winds make tee shots a different proposition.
Fresno’s Derek Ernst, a PGA Tour rookie making his third start of the year in a PGA Tour event here at the AT&T Pro-Am, played a practice round at Pebble Beach today, in these ideal conditions, and was showing the kind of form that bodes well for his making it to the money round on Sunday. A couple of drives that leaked to the right were about the only weak links I observed. His iron play was spot on – he stiffed approaches on the ninth and tenth holes which narrowly missed holing out, and he got on to the greens at the fifteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth holes within tap-in range.
The current forecast for Pebble Beach is calling for mostly cloudy conditions with a chance of showers on Thursday, and an even higher chance of showers, plus a possibility of thunderstorms and small hail, on Friday. The changing conditions, both during and after the coming storm, may have Derek and the rest of the field remembering Wednesday’s “Chamber-of-Commerce weather” with longing as they deal with another “Clambake smörgåsbord” of Crosby Weather.