Thursday, February 15, 2007
Off-duty caddies surf in Stillwater Cove, a comedian crowd-surfs between shots and a seven-time world-champion surfer pauses his round to sign a board. Welcome to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a strange-but-true parallel universe where the unlikely occurs reliably, and the rules that govern the real world don’t quite apply. It’s a wonderful place.
Bill Murray, as the master of this oft-surreal universe, traditionally sets the tone, as he did this year on his very first hole at Spyglass on Thursday.
“It is illegal to bet on the PGA tour,” he said, pulling a crumpled bill from his pocket, “but Jeff Sluman, I will give you $20 if you roll this putt in.”
Murray dropped the bill on the surface of the green and began poking it around with the grip-end of his putter, finally skewering it into the hole.
Sluman, a longtime PGA vet, promptly buried the midrange birdie putt, then reached into the hole to claim his ball and the bet. “It’s only a 10,” he said.
Four holes later Murray was back rattling Sluman’s cage, borrowing a harmonica from a fan and blowing the blues while Sluman waited to putt.
Real world: No open betting on pro golf. No whispering while a pro lines up a putt. Here: Cash on the greens and serenades in the backswing.
The evidence that this is a different world continued to accumulate. In the real world, male TV stars don’t go around grabbing male movie stars’ butts. But here comes perennial gallery-surfer George Lopez, who’s played in Andy Garcia’s foursome for the last few tournaments, doing exactly that before their tee shots at Spyglass’ 6th.
“I told you not to grab my ass in public,” Garcia said.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it,” Lopez replied. “I’ve been walking behind you for four years and I finally snapped.”
Garcia, an actor defined by his weighty dramatic roles, wasn’t to be outdone. “This is why I put broken glass on the floor between our beds at night,” he explained to the gallery.
“And why I’m practicing the long jump,” Lopez replied.
In the real world, Kevin Costner is an actor. Here he is a golfer and a country-rock star, opening for the likes of Kenny G and Clay Walker. The Kevin Costner Band led the all-star entertainment lineup at this year’s Tee Off party for tournament volunteers and sponsors. “Listen to the wobble of the ceiling fan,” he sang. “I wish I was a better man.” While at least several of the audience members wished out loud that he was a better singer, it didn’t really matter—this wasn’t really real.
~ • ~
The only man powerful enough to defy the goofy-surreal gravity of the weekend seemed to be Clint Eastwood—in the real world, no one makes fun of Dirty Harry and lives to tell about it (or keeps their Tehama privileges). But comedian, longtime Pro-Am participant and Tee Off emcee Tom Dreesen challenged that point. “Clint’s not exactly Mr. Excitement,” Dreesen said. “His idea of a good time is sitting on a toilet seat until his legs go numb.”
(A minute earlier, Dreesen was a little sweeter. “Clint Eastwood,” he said. “Man—is he having a hot year or what?”)
It certainly hadn’t been a hot year for eventual champ Phil Mickelson before he hit the Peninsula. A run of iffy performances so far this season only gave fans reason to believe that his stomach-turning bogey at Winged Foot, to burp up last year’s US Open Championship—one of the most startling chokes in recent sports history—was still very much on his mind. So on a Sunday where he lost his ball in the tall grass at Pebble’s 5th, and the resulting double bogey dropped him from the lead he had held since Thursday, most folks living in the real world figured, Sure—chokers aren’t supposed to play clutch golf.
But Mickelson quickly showed he was living in his own special Pro-Am reality, notching birdies on four of the next six holes, charging down the back with birdies at 15, 17 and 18, and ultimately tying the tournament record at 20 under par.
After being doubted by everyone not sharing his surname, Mickelson was stroking nine final-round birdies to win by record margin, going away. After a week of rain and wind—and ominous forecasts for Sunday—the conditions were picture book.
Mickelson’s big wide eyes seemed to register that familiar Pro-Am feeling that it didn’t all seem completely real. On the 18th green I asked him if he had expected to hang a 66 on the board—and tie for the lowest score of the day.
“Well…no,” he said.
Welcome to the AT&T.