Vern Fisher/AP via the Monterey County HeraldFrom left

Vern Fisher/AP via the Monterey County HeraldFrom left

Pebble Beach brings out the star power

PEBBLE BEACH — The golf almost is secondary. Bing Crosby understood that. People make the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am what it is as much as pars or birdies.

As through the decades people, personalities, made the tournament we once knew as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am what it was — Northern California’s annual winter party of occasional wild weather and constant enjoyment.

Bing played the game well enough to compete in the British Amateur. Yet it was his connection with the stars of the entertainment and sporting worlds responsible for the event that in nearly 80 years may have changed labels but retains the joyful spirit of the founder.

Before television removed what little mystery that existed about the rich and famous, fans would line the fairways for a rare glimpse of a Dean Martin, Phil Harris, Bob Hope or — until he retired to the broadcast booth — Bing himself.

It’s different now. Then again, it’s the same. As we learned once more on a Tuesday afternoon of great weather and great athletes, current and past, at the 2015 Chevron Shoot-out, a prelude to the AT&T.

You want names? How about Buster Posey and Matt Cain? Steve Young and Jerry Rice? Bruce Bochy and Javier Lopez? Brent Jones and Dwight Clark? What the fans, three-deep behind the fence encircling Pebble’s practice green, wanted were autographs and photographs. They got them.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Rice, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame receiver — and a low-handicap golfer. “Saying hello, posing pictures, meeting the people who used to come to Candlestick. They helped make us winners.”

Winners, indeed. The 49ers’ five Super Bowl trophies, the Giants’ three World Series trophies — including October’s — all were on display in a tent near the spectator entrance. If you’ve got it, flaunt it was the adage. The Niners and Giants have them, and for the charity shootout, Pebble was flaunting.

“I was a quarterback, not a golfer,” Young said. He was wearing a pullover with the words “49ers Foundation.” That group along with the Giants Community Fund was involved.

No less involved was KNBR (680 AM) morning man Brian Murphy, on the public-address system, needling, touting, eliciting laughs and applause. Harris Barton and Ronnie Lott were willing observers.

“I’m out of my element in this game,” said Lott, another Niner in the Hall of Fame. You mean you don’t need a safety to cover shanked tee shots?

Cain had played in the AT&T the past few years. He hits balls a mile. The pitcher is an athlete. Posey will be in his first AT&T. He also hits them a mile. They’re all athletes. Excellent ones.

“I’m a little nervous,” Posey said. “I’m also very excited.”

A Georgia resident, Posey warmed up for Pebble with a round at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. When you’re a former National League MVP, as the line goes, rank has its privileges.

Those spectators Tuesday who weren’t wearing jackets and caps from the 49ers seemed to be wearing those from the Giants. Ah, marketing.

“I’m nobody special,” Rice tried to tell us. “Just plain, old Jerry.”

Who won a Super Bowl MVP.

Said Posey: “I’m [an] X-factor in all this, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.” As was Bing Crosby’s plan so long ago.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

Art SpanderAT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AmPGA TourSan Francisco Giants

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