‘Only at Peb­ble’

A lit­tle wind and rain won’t stop the real fans from play­ing iconic golf course

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

Any other day, any other course, and the golf course might have been empty.

Gusts ap­proached 40 mph and felt even stronger on the holes ex­posed along the Pa­cific coast. Rain fell side­ways. Seag­ulls chose to walk.

This was not the “fe­lic­i­tous meet­ing of land and sea,’’ as Peb­ble Beach is known. It was more of a con­fronta­tion.

But it was Tues­day at the AT&T Peb­ble Beach Pro-Am, and that was enough to make Jerry Kelly climb out of bed in morn­ing dark­ness and call the PGA Tour rules staff to make sure Peb­ble Beach was open for play.

“I called Dil­lard Pruitt to see if they would let us on the course,’’ Kelly said. “He said, ‘I hate to say it, but you’re good to go.’’’ And so they went. Kelly brought along his am­a­teur part­ner, Green Bay Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers, and two am­a­teur friends for a match they had talked about for a year. Kelly said there was no hes­i­ta­tion about play­ing. Rodgers painted a slightly dif­fer­ent pic­ture.

“We had a lit­tle call this morn­ing about whether or not we wanted to do this,’’ Rodgers said with a grin as he ducked be­hind the mesh net­ting of a tele­vi­sion tower be­hind the eighth green. “But they’re great guys.’’

Rodgers feels right at home on the frozen tun­dra, so this was tame by com­par­i­son. It’s just that he would have pre­ferred a day on the golf course that didn’t re­quire him to dress in black rain gear, with black gloves on both hands and a black wool cap over his black cap.

“I love golf. I’ve only played nine holes since Au­gust,’’ he said.

Even so, he said there is no way he would have showed up on the first tee in weather like this.

“Only at Peb­ble,’’ Rodgers said.

That’s the charm of this event. It’s as much about com­pe­ti­tion as ca­ma­raderie among PGA Tour play­ers and am­a­teur part­ners who tend to be far more im­por­tant, more in­flu­en­tial, more fa­mous and, in many cases, who love the game more than the guys who do it for a liv­ing.

That’s what brings them out, even in weather so nasty that Kelly had to back off his tee shot when the wind blew over a metal fence.

“Any other tour­na­ment, no­body would be out here,’’ Kelly said.

They had com­pany, though not a lot. Brian Stu­ard played as a sin­gle in front of them. Two groups ahead was San Fran­cisco Gi­ants pitcher Matt Cain. He was sup­posed to play with Nick Wat­ney, and when Wat­ney didn’t show, Cain went out with an­other am­a­teur.

Charley Hoff­man headed out when the rain be­gan fall­ing even harder. Wat­ney even­tu­ally made it out there.

Tues­day was a pre­cur­sor for what could be a rough week at Peb­ble Beach, and the grum­bling sure to follow by those who don’t get it or sim­ply are too pam­pered. Never mind that Peb­ble has been blessed with gor­geous weather for the bet­ter part of a decade. All it takes is a week of rain — sun­shine is not in the fore­cast un­til the week­end — for the rep­u­ta­tion of “Crosby weather’’ to be re­stored.

The tour­na­ment was can­celled be­cause of a del­uge in 1996. Two years later, play­ers had to re­turn in Au­gust to play the third round and make it of­fi­cial. And don’t for­get 1962, when it was de­layed by snow. Jimmy De­maret rolled out of bed at the Lodge, saw snow on the 18th green and said, “I know I had a lot to drink last night, but how did I end up in Squaw Valley?’’

It was a won­der any­one was play­ing Peb­ble on Tues­day, which was only a prac­tice day. There were small streams on some of the greens. The wind blew so hard that only a wooden fence post kept the tee mark­ers from go­ing over the cliff and into the ocean be­hind the sev­enth tee.

It helped that scores didn’t count, not even Kelly’s birdie on the fourth hole. Kelly played col­lege hockey at Hart­ford and hit what amounted to a slap shot from the front of the green, up the spongy slope, through a pud­dle of wa­ter and into the cup. Why bother on a day like this? “Be­cause it’s there,’’ Kelly said. “It’s awe­some to come out here and do this. It brings me back to why I play the game. It’s kind of crazy. It’s kind of fun. It’s the stuff you did when you were a kid.’’

Crazy was Kelly hit­ting driver, 3-wood and hy­brid on the par-5 sixth hole and still not reach­ing the green. Crazy was hit­ting a 4-iron just over the back of the green on the 106-yard sev­enth hole. Fun was aim­ing a 3-wood out to­ward the ocean on No. 8 and watch­ing the wind bring it back some 25 yards to the green.

Kelly looked back at the rag­ing ocean be­hind him, his rain suit soaked, his smile wider than ever.

“This,’’ he said, “might be as good as it gets.’’

Only at Peb­ble.

AP PHOTO

PGA Tour vet­eran Jerry Kelly, left, and Green Bay quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers pose on the 8th green at Peb­ble Beach, Calif., on Tues­day, while play­ing in 40 mph wind and rain. Only at Peb­ble Beach are play­ers will­ing to go out in such mis­er­able con­di­tions.

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