PEBBLE BEACH — Jordan Spieth rarely sees a shot as impossible, sometimes when he doesn’t even have a club in his hand.
Walking off the 15th tee at Pebble Beach earlier this week, he noticed a golf ball that had gone well over the 14th green. Spieth offered to throw it back to the group behind him, only that would have been too simple.
“Give me some odds,” he said to caddie Michael Greller.
The challenge was to throw the ball into the hole. He was 75 feet away looking down to a back pin on a green that sloped severely away from him. Impossible. Spieth cupped the ball in his left hand and flipped it underhanded, high and with backspin. It landed in the rough, hopped onto the green and … missed by a few inches.
He also wanted odds on getting up-and-down from a plugged lie in the bunker to a short-sided pin at No. 8 (missed again).
Think back to last summer at St. Andrews when Spieth was going for the Grand Slam. After his third round Sunday, he engaged in a tense duel with Greller on who could throw a golf ball some 20 yards away into a carton on the practice range (Spieth made).
It’s a way to laugh a lot and keep it light, and a big part of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am is all about that.
Some see this tournament as a burden.
The rounds can approach six hours because they are played in foursomes with amateurs. Saturday at Pebble Beach can be a distraction because it’s all about the celebrities, like the time Bill Murray tossed an elderly woman into a bunker. The weather can be dicey (not this week).
Others see the Pebble Beach Pro-Am for what it is – a week that brings together the professional and amateur game, sprinkled with the entertainment and corporate.
Spieth played his first year with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and the last two with country star Jake Owen. Dustin Johnson plays with Wayne Gretzky, his future father-in-law. And nowhere else but Pebble will you see this on a tee sheet – Tim Herron and Larry the Cable Guy.
“This week, it’s so unique and it’s so much fun,” Spieth said. “I say that because of the pairings that I’ve had now the last four years. How can you not have fun? But as we’re out there – Jake will tell you, he’s seen me at the happiest and some of the most … a couple of years ago I was tied for the lead with Jimmy Walker and three-putted Pebble seven times on Saturday.
“Yeah, that was a fun round,” Owen said.
“So as much fun as we’re having in between shots, I’m here to win this golf tournament,” Spieth said. “And if we can win it together, even better. But I would rather take a win and us get second than for us to win and me get second.”
Spieth appears to have a decent golfer at his side. Owen beat him in their match at Cypress Point on Tuesday (Spieth gave him nine shots). Owen, meanwhile, has been around Spieth enough to see him ask for odds and call a shot, and every now and then deliver on his pledge.
Consider a charity event in December in Owen’s hometown of Vero Beach, Florida.
“No matter where we are on the golf course, the shot always has odds,” Owen said.
They were in the middle of the 13th fairway, 98 yards from the pin, about 100 fans following along in the fairway and 1,000 waiting behind the green to see the No. 1 player in Vero Beach.
“He looks at me and says, ‘All right what are the odds? I’m going to make this,’” Owen said. “I’m like, ‘You’re 98 yards out in the middle of the fairway.’ Without missing a beat, he just steps up, hits the shot in the air. He’s like, ‘Pay up.’ And I’m sitting there watching. It hits 3 feet behind the pin, and with all these people watching, spins back and goes in the hole. And he looks at me and I’m like, ‘This doesn’t happen with normal people.’”
Owen said a plaque is being inserted from that spot in the fairway.
“It just is kind of a way to smile and say, ‘I told you so.’ I’ve been doing it going back to grade school with friends,” Spieth said. “I think everyone does it on the golf course. It’s just, ‘Hey, hole-in-one here, you owe this.’ It’s probably not going to happen. But when it does, you get a good story out of it.”