While the three courses in the rota for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am – Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s (MPCC) Shore Course – may not exactly be home courses for the half-dozen Northern California players who are in the field this year, a certain familiarity with the conditions, not to mention the notorious poa annua greens, can certainly help. Players from the southern states, and the pros who have relocated to Florida, etc., grow accustomed to Bermuda greens and their peculiarities, and the late-day bumpiness caused by fast-growing poa content often throws them for a loop.
While the 2015 AT&T Pro-Am champion, Tennessean Brandt Snedeker, traded birdies for bogeys and shot a par-72 round at Spyglass Hill, and reigning FedEx Champ and Dallas native Jordan Spieth went one-under on the same course, two Northern California players navigated the poa to particularly good rounds on the Thursday, February 9 opening day of the classic Monterey-area tournament. Stockton-born Ricky Barnes, a journeyman player who has been on the PGA Tour since 2004, fired a clean-card 65 on par-71 MPCC Shore, a result which puts him in at T5 after the first day.
The split-tee start had Barnes starting on #10 on the Shore Course, and he got into the swing of things quickly with a birdie two at #2, a 176-yard par-3. Another birdie, at the dramatic double-dogleg par-4 fifteenth hole, saw him making the turn in 2-under 35. A birdie three on the #1 hole (his tenth) – another double-dogleg, par-4, but with more subtle bends and a drop of nearly 75 feet from tee to green – got Barnes’ second nine off to a good start.
After a string of pars Barnes started a birdie run late in the round, playing the par-5, par-4, par-3 combination of holes 6, 7 and 8 – the #1 handicap hole on MPCC Shore – all at 1-under. A par at the drivable, but tricky, par-4 ninth hole brought Barnes home in 30 on the back nine for a total of 65.
Summing up his round, Barnes said, “…got a little fooled on a few yardages, but (I) hit it solid, kept the ball in play, and made a few putts.”
Another Central Valley guy, Elk Grove’s Spencer Levin, brought it home in 6-under on the tournament’s home course, hitting a triple combo of par-birdie on the opening six holes at Pebble Beach. Playing with amateur partner Bob Manfred, Jr., the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Levin closed the front nine with a birdie 3 at the toughest par-4 hole on the course, the ninth – the one with the slanting fairway and looming cliffside drop to Carmel Beach.
Back-nine birdies on #11 – an innocuous inland par-4 capped off with a narrow, steeply back-to-front slanting green – and #14 – a bruiser of a par-5 with a tabletop-sized green which is the hands-down toughest hole on the course – saw Levin home in 6-under 66.
Of the birdie putt at #11, a daunting 24-foot downhiller, Levin said, “Oh, yeah … there’s some putts out there that are really, really fast, and that one was probably moving pretty good, so I’m happy that one caught the hole.”
Levin, whose father Don was a two-time All-America golfer at San Jose State, has good memories of Pebble Beach Golf Links from runner-up and first-place finishes at the California State Amateur in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Obviously at home on poa annua greens, Levin told PGA Tour media interviewers, “Yeah, these […] greens are the kind of greens I grew up on, the poa annua greens.”
Levin’s round could have been at least two shots better but for narrowly-missed birdie putts on 15 and 16. Tomorrow he will face what is arguably the toughest test in the tournament rota, the par-72 Robert Trent Jones-designed Spyglass Hill, and will finish the three-round qualifying stretch on MPCC Shore; Barnes comes to the home course on Friday and will have Spyglass Hill to look forward to for his third round, on Saturday.