As the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship played out at Pebble Beach Golf Links, capped by a masterful performance by winner Viktor Hovland of Norway, some important groundwork was being laid for the 119th U.S. Open 10 months later.
The course will not play the same for the U.S. Open in June as it did in mid-August. When Hovland, runner-up Devon Bling and other top amateur competitors return to the Monterey Peninsula June 10-16, 2019, with the game’s top professionals, they can expect to find a more exacting test.
“On the scorecard, Pebble Beach is a golf course that plays pretty short for today’s players,” said Jeff Hall, managing director of Rules and Open Championships for the USGA, who has been involved in U.S. Open course setup since 2006 and was on hand observing play in the U.S. Amateur. “And yet, when you think about the history here, it’s a place that has stood the test of time.”
Many people see Pebble Beach on television in February, when it hosts the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour. Conditions are different at that time of year – and the course is typically much softer – than what players will likely encounter for the U.S. Open. If all goes according to plan, the rough will be longer and it will encroach more on the fairways. With the expected firmer turf, the fairways and greens will effectively play even smaller than they did for the U.S. Amateur.
“There will be a premium on getting the ball in the fairway, the rough will be challenging, and the greens are very small targets,” said Hall. “That combination, along with the weather, adds up to the whole package that makes Pebble Beach an iconic venue for the U.S. Open.”
This isn’t the first time that Pebble Beach has performed double duty for the USGA’s two most historic men’s championships. It also hosted the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in back-to-back years in 1999 and 2000, with David Gossett capturing the U.S. Amateur and Tiger Woods providing one of the game’s dominant performances, a 15-stroke U.S. Open runaway.
Such a U.S. Amateur prelude to a U.S. Open has been replicated at venues other than Pebble Beach, though not in consecutive years. Chambers Bay held the U.S. Amateur in 2010 before hosting the U.S. Open for the first time in 2015. Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2011, six years before its U.S. Open debut. Oakmont (2003 Amateur, 2007 Open), Winged Foot (2004 Amateur, 2006 Open), Merion (2005 Amateur, 2013 Open), Olympic (2007 Amateur, 2012 Open) and Pinehurst (2008 Amateur, 2014 Open) all played host to U.S. Amateurs in the recent past ahead of hosting U.S. Opens.
“There are things to learn during the U.S. Amateur,” Hall noted as 312 of the world’s best amateur players competed for the Havemeyer Trophy at Pebble Beach and stroke play co-host Spyglass Hill Golf Course. “When you walk the drive zones, you get a sense of where balls are going to be hit in the U.S. Open. Some of these guys are the next generation of PGA Tour players. I’m not saying that they have consistent, fully formed games, but they hit Tour-quality shots.”
Along with studying the shot values from the most recent U.S. Amateur, the USGA can draw on some of the most illustrious moments in U.S. Open history at Pebble Beach. Jack Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Kite (1992) and Woods have won there, with Graeme McDowell providing the most recent U.S. Open vignette when he edged Gregory Havret by one stroke in 2010, with Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson hot on his heels.
In the ensuing eight years, there have been a few tweaks to the course, which along with the 70-year tradition of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, also hosts an annual PGA Tour Champions event (the Pure Insurance Championship) in the fall. One important factor in the planning for 2019 is that Chris Dalhamer, the resort’s director of golf course maintenance, also partnered with the USGA in 2010.
“Pebble Beach has added a new tee on the ninth hole since we were there in 2010,” said Hall, “so we spent some time watching tee shots during the Amateur, to get a sense of what that additional 20 to 25 yards is going to mean. A few of the greens – Nos. 9, 13, 14 and 17 – have also been restored to their original sizes. They’ve got potential hole locations on those greens that they didn’t have before, so we are watching how they play.”
The 2019 U.S. Open is not the only upcoming competition on the USGA’s calendar at Pebble Beach. The resort will host its first U.S. Women’s Open in 2023 and its seventh U.S. Open in 2027, meaning that the USGA will conduct four championships there in nine years, a frequency exceeded only a few times in USGA history.
“Pebble Beach is still Pebble Beach,” said Hall. “The greens are so tiny that almost anytime you miss one, you feel as though you’re short-siding yourself. It’s a quality test of golf, day-in and day-out, and we’re looking forward to the additional history that we’ll generate there.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.