Lake golf pro Paul Leahy talks about his experience at the U.S. Open.
In 2010 the U.S. Open was played at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links. My son Michael, who was 18 and attending the University of Missouri at that time, made a comment as we were watching the action on television: “We need to go to Pebble next time they play the U.S. Open there,” he said. Being the dutiful Dad, my reply was “sure we can do that, but that’s a while off, will have to see where life takes us.”
The next time the Open was scheduled to be played at Pebble was 2019, some nine years later. Jumping ahead, Michael had graduated from the University of Missouri Columbia, attended law school and joined the United States Air Force as a JAG attorney and was stationed in England. He had brought it up from time to time over the years that he still planed on attending, but “so much for Pebble” was my thought with him across the pond. We visited him this past January in Europe and after a pint or two he looked at me and said “we’re still going this year right?” So much for him forgetting, so the planning began. I’d already taken leave for a week so we just need to decide which days to attend and book our flights.
We decided to attend the practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday, and return to Lake of the Ozarks for a visit before he would go back to England. We met in San Francisco on Sunday, June 9 and proceeded south to Santa Cruz where we would be staying. As the excitement was building we drove the 45 minutes to the shuttle pick-up Monday morning for the short 20 minute commute to Pebble. The morning started a little shaky as the bus driver went North on Hwy. 1 instead of South. About 10 minutes into the trip a passenger from behind us went to the front to alert the now embarrassed driver that he was going the wrong way. Once turned around we made it to 17-Mile Drive in Monterey — the famously-scenic road that would take us to Pebble.
Entering the grounds we were funneled into the merchandise area which also housed several interactive fan experiences before entering the course halfway up the 1st fairway.
The plan was to find Tiger, as he was already on the course playing a practice round. The views on the first couple of holes were pedestrian but once we made it to hole four the course opened up and the picturesque Pacific coastline was everywhere. “Unbelievable” was about all we could say. You see it on television but to see it in person, you just have to experience it. As we waited for Tiger on the tee at four, which shares a tee box with the famous par-3 17th, we just took in the views. Tiger arrived with a huge crowd as always but we managed to be just a few feet from where they hit their tee shots. Tiger and the others hit multiple tee shots on the drivable par-4 to get a feel of what they would hit come Thursday. We followed Tiger the rest of the front nine and had a great view of the iconic par-3 7th hole from the grandstand which plays a meager 112 yards.
With the Pacific as the backdrop this short, seemingly easy hole, has derailed many a round. Before Tiger’s group would arrive we witnessed a perfect shot, an ace for Mid-Amateur champion Kevin O’Connell. Making his way into this elite field with his win at the Mid-Amateur earlier in the year, this was surely the highlight of the week as he missed the cut to play the weekend. What a reception he received from the fans. We didn’t care if it was a practice round or not, and I don’t think he did either as he had his phone out videoing his walk to the green. He was met by thunderous applause coming from the huge gallery that was awaiting Tiger and his group.
We followed Tiger’s group as they played the eighth and ninth. The crowds were huge and the scenery was dramatic (holes eight through 10 run along the coastline). The residents and visitors of Monterey played and enjoyed the beaches below the cliffs that house the scenic golf links. They seemed oblivious to the action unfolding above them. Tiger’s day was done after nine so we perched ourselves at the huge concession deck adjacent to the ninth fairway to take in the action, have lunch and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pacific.
Soon we made our way to the back nine and followed the likes of Jon Rahm, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Ernie Els, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, just to name a few. As we traversed the inward nine watching the action and taking in the breathtaking views we did our best to savor the experience. My first trip to Pebble and my first U.S. Open was everything I could hope for. We reached the iconic 17th hole and ended our journey on possibly the most well-known finishing hole in golf — the par-five 18th. With the left guarded by Stillwater Cove, the fairway doglegs left around the cove and finishes with a breathtaking approach that so many of us have seen on television for years. It was a great day and one we won’t forget.
My major championship attendance is almost complete as I have been to the Masters, PGA Championship and now a U.S. Open. Only the Open Championship across the pond eludes me. After spending a few days with me at Pebble Beach, my son returned to England, and in July, spent the weekend in Northern Ireland at the Royal Portrush Golf Club for the Open Championship, equaling my major championship attendance at three. Only a Masters visit eludes him. It’s a race now to see if Michael can secure a coveted Masters ticket or if I will get to attend the Open Championship first. Maybe will do them together … that would be something special.