100 Years of Pebble Beach: The U.S. Open

By James A. Frank

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Photo by Evan Schiller

In 2019, Pebble Beach Golf Links will celebrate its 100th birthday and host its sixth U.S. Open. To commemorate these milestones, each issue of LINKS Magazine and LINKSdigital between now and then will tell the unique story that is Pebble Beach. Those articles will also be shared here on our website.

As Pebble Beach Golf Links gets ready to host its sixth U.S. Open in 2019—during its centennial celebration—here’s a look back at the previous five

1972 U.S Open

The U.S. Amateur came to Pebble Beach in 1929, just 10 years after the course officially opened. But it took another 43 years for our National Championship to arrive, and once it did, the links proved a stern test. History was also made in 1972 when Pebble Beach Golf Links became the first course accessible to the public to host a U.S. Open.

Jack Nicklaus finished all four days tied or alone at the top. After the first day, he was one under par with five others. It was Nicklaus and five others leading at even par after the second day, with Arnold Palmer one stroke back. Palmer, who’d opened with a 77, could have been well out in front, but he missed lots of short putts, including a two-footer on the 8th hole that led him to say afterward, “I was madder than I have ever been on a golf course.” Still, his 68 was one of the best rounds of the tournament.

Even-par 72 on Saturday was good enough to give Nicklaus a one-stroke lead over three players including 1971 champion Lee Trevino, who was weakened by a bout of bronchitis and pneumonia that kept him in a Texas hospital until two days before the tournament began. A final-round 74 in high winds was an admirable achievement for Nicklaus, who finished three shots ahead of Australia’s Bruce Crampton and four ahead of Palmer, who again had his chances but was let down by his putter.

This was Nicklaus’s 13th major championship, tying him with his hero, Bobby Jones.

Jack Nicklaus (Photo courtesy of Pebble Beach Company)

1982 U.S Open

Jack Nicklaus was in the mix again, eventually finishing solo second. But the tournament belonged to Tom Watson, whose hole-out on the 17th hole in the final round remains one of the most exciting moments in golf history, and the photographs among its most iconic images.

Only seven players broke par in the windy first round, with Watson in a large group at even par. He was still even par after round two, tied with Nicklaus, Tom Kite, and two others chasing Australia’s Bruce Devlin, who followed a first-round 70 with a solid 69. Watson stayed close thanks to his short game, remarking that on the second day, “I shot a 77 and scored a 72.” A 68 on an unusually calm Saturday tied him at the top with Bill Rogers. Nicklaus hung three strokes back.

As often happened, major-championship Sunday became the “Tom and Jack” show. Teeing off half an hour before the leaders, Nicklaus bogeyed No. 1 then birdied holes 3 through 7. In the last group, Watson and Rogers traded the lead until the 10th hole, where Rogers made his second straight bogey while Watson made a remarkable par after nearly hitting his approach over a cliff into Carmel Bay, hacking out of wicked rough, and holing a 25-foot putt.

Nicklaus and Watson were tied after Jack birdied 15 and Tom bogeyed 12. Watson holed a slick, downhill 40-footer for birdie on 14, giving that shot back on 16. Which brought him to the par-three 17th, where his 2-iron finished long, the ball nestled in thick rough above the hole. Caddie Bruce Edwards advised his man to “Get it close.” Watson answered, “Get it close? Hell, I’m going to sink it.” Which he did, followed by a birdie at 18 for a two-stroke win over Nicklaus.

Tom Watson (Photo courtesy of Pebble Beach Company)

1992 U.S Open

For two days, Gil Morgan manhandled the 92nd U.S. Open. He followed an opening-round 66 with a second-round 69, giving him a three-shot lead heading into the weekend. Along the way, he became the first player to reach double digits under par in a U.S. Open, getting to 12 under before slipping back.

In the excitement, it was easy to overlook Tom Kite, who was one under after both the first and second rounds, then tied for second after the third round at three under, one behind the still-slipping Morgan, who would disappear altogether with a closing 81.

Others also ballooned in the final day’s winds. Among the leaders going into Sunday, Nick Faldo and Tom Lehman fired 77s, Joey Sindelar had a 78, and Ian Woosnam a 79. But Kite played smart and steady, extending his lead to four with four holes to go. He needed that cushion as he bogeyed 16, then turned into the wind on 17, where he dropped another shot. A brave par on the wind-swept 18th secured Kite’s two-shot victory over Jeff Sluman.

Tom Kite (Photo courtesy of Pebble Beach Company)

2000 U.S Open

The golf world was still getting used to the feats of the 24-year-old Tiger Woods. After turning professional in the summer of 1996, he started winning immediately, and coming into Pebble Beach he’d already captured his first Masters (by an incredible 12 strokes), first PGA Championship, and two World Golf Championship events—19 PGA Tour events in all. But that still wasn’t preparation for what was to come.

Woods was lucky to have an early tee time on the first day, carding a six-under 65 for a one-shot lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez before the fog rolled in. Conditions weren’t much better in round two, but nothing could stop Woods, whose 69 gave him an eight-under-par total and a six-stroke lead over Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn.

An even-par third round increased Woods’s lead to 10 over Ernie Els (who recorded a wonderful 68), and a final-round, bogey-free 67 was icing on the cake: 12 under for the tournament, 15 strokes clear of Jimenez and Els (still a major championship record), and the first player in U.S. Open history to finish double digits under par. It wasn’t a tournament, it was a coronation.

Despite Woods’s magnificent play, a cloud hung over Pebble Beach. The 1999 U.S. Open champion, Payne Stewart, had died in an airplane accident in October, and a number of events were held in his honor.

Tiger Woods (Photo courtesy of Pebble Beach Company)

2010 U.S Open

With contestants from 25 countries, the 110th U.S. Open proved to be an international affair. Paul Casey of England, Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe, and American Shaun Micheel tied for the first-round lead at two under par. But they all were over par on day two, yielding the lead to Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, with South Africa’s Ernie Els, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, and Americans Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson two back. The next seven players were from seven different countries.

Johnson used his prodigious length to take the third-round lead by three over McDowell, firing a 66, the same score recorded by a surging Tiger Woods, who was alone in third place but five shots back. On Sunday, Johnson quickly lost his lead with a triple bogey on the 2nd hole and a double bogey on 3, opening the door for McDowell, who despite a three-over-par 74 took the championship by one shot over France’s Gregory Havret and two shots over Els.

Graeme McDowell (Photo courtesy of Pebble Beach Company)

If past is prologue, Pebble Beach will surely stage another thrilling national championship next year during its centennial celebration.