The Commercial Appeal

‘You just kind of hit it and laugh’: Story of 17th hole

- STEVE DIMEGLIO

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif - Hugging Carmel Bay, the beloved seventh hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links offers an intimate setting, a beautiful pairing of land and sea and all its glory that stuns every golfer’s soul.

But the iconic, diminutive hole, which is a star on its own during the celebrityf­illed AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, can be as intimidati­ng as any hole in golf despite its length of 106 yards. At the mercy of air currents blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, and with the elevated tee perched some 40feet above the putting surface, the shortest hole on the PGA Tour – and golfers – is exposed to the elements.

When it’s calm and waves are gently kissing the rocks below, the seventh is easy prey despite the six deep bunkers standing guard. With a wedge in hand and the wind down, players are embarrasse­d if they miss the green.

In Saturday’s third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, A-list singer and actor Justin Timberlake grabbed a wedge, swung easily and nearly holed his tee shot for an ace. He settled for a tap-in birdie.

When the wind is whistling, however, and waves are crashing against the jagged cliffs, golfers are the prey. Some pros have used as much as a 3-iron in an attempt to conquer Mother Nature and the hole. Of the 104 players who passed through in the first two rounds of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, only 15 made birdie.

The hole certainly is a beauty – and a beast. And it will play a big role in the outcome this weekend, especially if the winds pick up under the bright skies.

With the nearest penalty drop in Honolulu, as Hall of Fame member Jimmy Demaret once quipped, some players in the tournament – and golfers year-round for that matter – have refused to gamble with their tee shots and taken the safest route possible when the winds are roaring. As legend holds, many profession­als back in the day, including Sam Snead, one of the best golfers in the game’s history, took the putter out of their bag and stroked the ball onto the cart path, watched it roll down the hill and then took a free penalty drop 100 yards away.

In the 1992 U.S. Open, Tom Kite famously used a 6-iron to pitch his ball through howling winds, held his breath as the ball nearly went over the cliff, then chipped in for birdie 2 en route to victory. That day, only one player in the last 15 groups hit the green in regulation.

“I love it when it’s calm,” Tiger Woods said a few years back. “When conditions are awful, and you have to throw a 4- or 5-iron out over the ocean with a little bit of a cut and hope it comes back, it’s not real comforting. Not a lot of fun, either.”

J.B. Holmes, Tony Finau and Charley Hoffman would beg to differ. The three big hitters played a practice round Tuesday when the weather was at its worst – high winds, rain and cold providing a dicey trifecta. But the three braved the conditions and played onward despite being soaked to the bone. From 105 yards, Holmes hit s 6-iron, Finau and Hoffman each used a 5-iron. All three hit the green. All three rejoiced as if they had just won the Masters or U.S. Open.

Conditions weren’t much better in the first round. Third-year Tour pro Mark Hubbard, who got engaged by the 18th hole at Pebble last year, had a heart-stopping moment on the seventh this year. En route to an opening 69, he made par on the seventh. A hard-earned par.

“I’ve never played anything like it; that was the wackiest golf shot I’ve ever hit,” Hubbard said after the round. “I knew I had to start it over the ocean. … I hit 7-iron from 102 yards. I was joking in the scoring tent, that in sunny Arizona, I was hitting 7-irons from 200 yards.”

Hubbard’s tee shot wound up in heavy rough left of the green, but he chipped to 3 feet and made the putt for par.

“If this was Sunday and that was my 70th hole, it would have been a little different,” Hubbard said. “Honestly, it’s so bad right now that it’s tough to even get nervous or try to commit. It’s so crazy and wacky that you just kind of hit it and laugh.”

 ?? KYLE TERADA / USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Mark Hubbard hits his tee shot on the seventh hole Thursday during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.
KYLE TERADA / USA TODAY SPORTS Mark Hubbard hits his tee shot on the seventh hole Thursday during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.

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