Pebble Beach offers perfect backdrop
The natural landscape of Pebble Beach, with its breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, stunning cliffs and the majestic houses and Cyprus trees lining the rolling lush green, makes it easy to forget that you are walking one of the most iconic golf courses in the USA.
The fact that the greatest golfers of all time (Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods) have all won epic U.S. Opens on this course firmly cements Pebble Beach only behind Augusta as the list of the most revered golf courses that everyone should try to visit once in their life.
Last Thursday night, I had the privilege to witness one of the most exciting basketball games I had ever seen as Toronto, in the final game at Oracle Arena, took the NBA championship crown from the Golden State Warriors.
On Friday morning at 8:30, I was two hours south of Oakland as Woods started his second round with Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.
In 2000, Tiger won the U.S. Open at Pebble by 15 shots over the second place finisher in one of the finest performances ever in a golf tournament. I followed Tiger every hole for three days, including Sunday when he wore his iconic red and black.
The galleries for Tiger this year were five times the size of the leaders the first two days and double those of the leaders on Sunday.
Many people following Tiger had never seen him play in person and cheered him on even though he struggled for the first three days and on the first few holes on Sunday.
Tiger actually let one fan, who was wearing a tiger (animal) outfit, touch his putter and then Tiger carried this good vibe to birdie two of the next three holes.
I heard on TV that some commentators said Woods appeared indifferent, but from my vantage point, I saw a champion who was actually trying too hard as he attempted to recreate his mastery of the course in 2000 (he actually finished 21st after making six birdies in the final 12 holes).
It was easier to follow golfers at Pebble as compared to U.S. Opens that I have attended at Shinnecock and Oakmont.
Unfortunately, the famous No. 7 hole, the 100-yard par-3, where the golfers hit into a green surrounded by water and rocks, can only be viewed from a grandstand where people waited in line for hours.
I followed Brooks Koepka after Woods completed his rounds on Saturday and Sunday. In person, he truly looks like an NFL linebacker. His power and strength are most evident when he plays out of the deep rough and is able to drive the ball on the green.
Koepka, who has won four of the last nine majors and this year has finished second, first and second in the three majors, is greatly skilled in his ability to remain calm and serene.
I saw Rory Mcllroy scream at a spectator who was talking during a shot and then drive the ball in the rough. I was standing next to Spieth when he hit a rake on the lip of the sand trap and then proceeded to complain about the rake as he bogeyed the hole.
But on Sunday, a marshal literally walked in front of Koepka (and stopped) as he attempted a crucial and difficult chip shot. In a very nice way, Koepka told the marshal she could go left or right but couldn’t stand in front of his shot. He then proceeded to make a great shot.
Of course, the star and winner of the tournament was Gary Woodland, who played a masterful four days of golf. Woodland, who had a reputation of blowing leads and as a long driver with a poor short game, held onto the lead the final two days of the tournament with tremendous putting.
Needing only a bogey to win on 18, he played very conservatively and was still able to sink a long putt for a birdie.
Woodland is one of the most liked players on the tour and the video of him cheering on Special Olympian Amy Bockerstette is very uplifting.
On Saturday, I was standing next to Warriors coach Steve Kerr as he looked down the par-3 No. 17 hole with a backdrop of boats on the ocean.
I am sure he would have preferred to be in Toronto preparing for Game 7, but, as he turned to his family and said, “this is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” I could only shake my head in agreement.
Kaufman is an Altoona native, attorney and traveling sports fan. He hosts a Monday night radio show called “Ira on Sports,” that can be heard on FM95.9 and FM106.9 in West Palm Beach, Florida and is available on Sound Cloud and iTunes under Ira on Sports.