A huge thanks to Stephanie for giving me the chance to contribute to her site. I’m Kevin Merfeld, a failed walk-on golfer at the University of Southern California, a former Pebble Beach caddie and the current golf writer for my hometown newspaper, the Monterey County Herald. I met Stephanie at Pebble Beach while we both covered the U.S. Open. I got an armband to go inside the ropes because I was considered traditional media. She didn’t because she writes for a website — which is somehow not as legitimate? Not in my eyes. I’m a big fan of this site — both the content Stephanie produces and the insightful commenting from you guys — and it’s just the audience that I hope to eventually write for regularly.
When it was announced six years ago that the 2010 U.S. Open would be hosted at Pebble Beach, sure, there was a part of me that fantasized about being good enough to play. I would be 25, or a year older than Tiger Woods when he shredded Pebble Beach in 2000. At the time, I was preparing to walk onto the USC golf team. I never got letters from coaches. I didn’t chases AJGA events across the country all summer. I played a handful of Northern California events, but I spent the majority of my eight summers between high school and college as a caddie at Pebble Beach.
I didn’t make it as a golfer. I still play, and I have the most inconsistent 3-handicap around. Seriously, it’s like the difference between Dustin Johnson in the third and fourth round at the U.S. Open. Maybe if I would have dedicated myself fully to tapping my golf potential, I could have played at the collegiate level. But it only bugs me when I can’t stop snap-hooking drives out of bounds. (Although the cure is usually just a six-pack away.)
I still got to go to my dream school, at a time when USC’s football team won a pair of national championships and Heismans (insert Reggie Bush jokes here), and I got to take advantage of that not only socially, but as a journalism major who wanted to be a sportswriter. I could not have picked a better time to be at USC.
But if I went all in and chased a golf career, I wouldn’t have been able to caddie at Pebble Beach. And that is an experience I will never regret, even though I was usually counting down how many holes were left before reaching the Cliffs of Doom, and I would go weeks without a player breaking 100.
But I reminisced the most about my caddie days during this year’s U.S. Open. I haven’t caddied regularly at Pebble Beach since graduating from USC in 2007 . But even by then, there had new bunkers sprinkled throughout the course in preparation for the 2010 US. Open and Round 2 vs. Woods. (That was the most disappointing thing for me, selfishly, about Woods’ fire-hydrant aftermath. The distractions prevented a true rematch with Pebble Beach.)
We would hear different caddie rumors about possible setups, like that the par-5 sixth hole that climbs a 40-foot hill would be turned into a par 4. (That wasn’t so far-fetched, because the second hole had been converted from a par 5 to a par 4 for the 2000 U.S. Open.) We imagined various ways to make Pebble Beach as tough as possible.
But the USGA’s Mike Davis found a new course for this year’s U.S. Open, and I was stunned. Part of it was I couldn’t get past the soft, year-round resort conditions. I’d never seen the greens get anywhere close to a 13 on the stimpmeter, or the fairways run like you were playing at Bandon Dunes.
But then there was Davis’ uninhibited imagination, which was able to ignore how Pebble Beach was set up 10 years ago and do things like turn the fourth hole into a fascinating drivable par 4. (Johnson made eagle there Saturday, drove it into the ocean Sunday.)
Davis also made the ocean a penalty again. Before the U.S. Open, I only worried about the ocean on Nos. 8-10 and 18. Davis made all nine holes that hug the cliffs dangerous again (with either reshaped fairways or pin placements), and Nos. 8-10 and 18 became even scarier. Pebble Beach was a fun blend of a scorable setup, with big numbers lurking if you missed in the wrong spots. As Phil Mickelson likes to say, the hard holes were made harder, and the easy holes were made easier.
As for the now infamous No. 14, I don’t remember it creating so many “others.” There actually used to be a back right pin placement — and it was an easy pin that sat in the middle of a valley. The safe play was to miss long right, and it was usually a pretty simple up-and-down to a left pin. The hole has always been difficult for a par 5, but I don’t know when it became so treacherous. It certainly doesn’t help when the green is running 13 and two-thirds of it become a false front, though.
I did have one setup hope after learning about Davis’ propensity to move tees around. Moving the tee box up on No. 3 in Saturday’s round was interesting, tempting players to almost drive the green. But a semi-drivable hole on the back nine, especially with Nos. 14 and 17 slaughtering so many rounds, would have been a welcomed break, and a way to spruce up the finish. My suggestion would have been to move the tees forward on the 397-yard 15th hole to either the white tees (349), or even the reds (312), to create more options. As it was, the 15th was just a 270-yard layup in front of a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway and a 120-yard approach. A little boring, especially since the green is one of the flattest on the course.
I don’t mean to dump a bunch of two-week-old thoughts on you guys. And I won’t be so autobiographical, or as long, in the future. Just wanted to say hi, and let you know a little about me. I look forward to bouncing more current ideas off you guys soon.