PEBBLE BEACH — Pebble Beach is known as the felicitous meeting of land and sea, and the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which tees off today, can be an important meeting of PGA Tour players and amateur partners who in most cases are far more successful — CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, stars from other sports that include Wayne Gretzky, Matt Cain and Justin Verlander, actors Bill Murray and Andy Garcia, entertainers like Clay Walker and Kenny G.
It requires patience to get through rounds that approach six hours, with two pros and two amateurs at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
Pebble Beach is one of the few events on the PGA Tour where the tournament itself is bigger than any one player, though the field is ample.
Phil Mickelson is the defending champion, and he is coming off a four-shot win last week in the Phoenix Open for his 41st career victory on the tour. Mickelson is a four-time winner at Pebble Beach, and another victory would tie the tournament record held by Mark O’Meara.
Dustin Johnson is a two-time winner at Pebble, and it might have been three except for that untidy 82 he had in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open. Johnson is playing this year with Gretzky, the hockey great whom he knows a little better from dating the Great One’s daughter, Paulina.
Still in the tournament is Vijay Singh, another former No. 1 and Pebble champion, drawing plenty of attention for the worst reason. Singh told Sports Illustrated he used deer-antler spray said to contain a substance that is on the banned list of the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy.
Singh admitted to using it in a statement, and under the policy, an admission is equal to a failed drug test. Sanctions have not been announced. The tour has yet to comment, though PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is in town this week.
Lee Westwood moved his family to Palm Beach County in December, in time for the kids to start school. He is a PGA Tour member again and believes less travel at his age will only help.
But his U.S. schedule starts in a place where players warm up on the putting green with ski caps because of the February chill. That’s OK, too.
“It’s just a magical place to play golf,” Westwood said. “I’ve always said it’s my favorite place. People always ask me where I would like to play my last round of golf. If it wasn’t a golf course by a hospital, it would be Pebble Beach.”