College students just aren’t supposed to get up before 6 a.m. Not on a Saturday. Not to watch golf.
But of course, I’m going to be doing all of that tomorrow, when my dad and I take our annual trip to Monterey for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Why, you ask? It’s not the breathtaking views, though those are always a huge plus. And it’s not just to watch world-class professional golfers, with everyone from Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson (who hit me in the knee a few years back with an errant sixth-hole drive) to Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods (who is finally returning to Pebble after a 10-year hiatus).
No, the biggest attractions at the event are by far the celebrities. If you’re not familiar with the pro-am format, each foursome contains two professional golfers who compete individually to win the tournament but are also paired with an amateur, who could be a famous athlete, musician, CEO, actor or otherwise successful human being. The pro-am team also competes for a separate title, taking the best score between the two partners as the team score for that hole.
In other words, you don’t have to be a golf fan to have fun at Pebble.
Do you like college football? Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops tees off at 8 a.m., with Alabama’s Nick Saban about an hour behind.
Are you more of an NFL fan? Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (paired with Tiger this year) will pull out a driver on hole 10 at 8:22, while Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers simultaneously reaches for that long iron on the first tee. Super Bowl-losing coach Bill Belichick of the Patriots follows at 9:06 (together with BCS Championship-winning coach Saban), and ESPN analyst and former coach/cornerback Herm Edwards is set for 10:01.
Could you be a fellow Bay Area sports nut, by any chance? Giants pitcher Matt Cain and our old friend Jim Harbaugh headline the 9:39 foursome.
And if you aren’t impressed by sports at all (yet still happen to be reading this column), the tournament always hosts its fair share of actors: Josh Duhamel, Ray Romano, Andy Garcia and George Lopez in less than an hour. Wow.
But by far the best memories come from Bill Murray, the guy from Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. He indisputably does the best on-course stand-up comedy, and he’s known for snagging the crowd some snacks from the player’s tent (I scored a banana once as a kid). He’s become the tournament’s headliner year in and year out and he’s a pretty darn good golfer, too.
Last year, my dad and I were sitting at the fifth-hole grandstands for the third round. A tricky par-3 guarded by bunkers and the coastline, hole five was playing even trickier than normal thanks to Pebble’s predictably unpredictable wind. We watched dozens of players—pros and amateurs alike—miss in every way imaginable: long, short, left, right, bunker, trees, rough, ocean. Anything on the green was a good shot, and anything within 20 feet of the hole was far above average.
Murray was the last player in his foursome to hit his tee shot. Wearing an Elmer Fudd hat (he and partner D.A. Points were “in the hunt,” after all), Murray walked into the tee box, took two practice swings baseball-style and nailed a shot to within a foot or two of the pin. It was 11 a.m., and there were at most a hundred of us sitting in the grandstand, but we were all yelling like Andrew Luck had just thrown a game-winning touchdown.
Of course, Murray took a few seconds to get down and line up his putt once he got to the green. And alongside Points, Murray won the 2011 tournament for the first time in his 20 years entering the event.
Murray adds a sorely needed degree of levity to a sport that most non-players see as too drawn-out, too uneventful and too pretentious. Some members of the golf establishment don’t appreciate his rabble-rousing ways, but, at the end of the day, it’s the fans writing the golfers’ paychecks, and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is giving casual golf fans what they want.
Maybe some of the other sports that the American market sees as “boring”—tennis, soccer and increasingly even baseball—can take a hint from Bill Murray. If you want your sport to be entertaining your athletes have to know what they’re doing. But sometimes, they’ve got to bring an Elmer Fudd hat to the party as well.