By Ken Klavon, USGA
Pebble Beach, Calif. – If anyone’s counting, make it 0 for 3.
That’s U.S. Open setup 3, amateurs 0.
Amateur Peggy Ference didn’t break 100 Wednesday at Pebble Beach Golf Links in the third Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge, falling victim to a treacherous U.S. Open setup that left her shooting a round of 118. In the previous two contests, the late John Atkinson shot 114 at Torrey Pines and Larry Giebelhausen notched a 101 at Bethpage Black.
Does it really matter?
Instead of dwelling on what could have been, Ference savored each moment in a round that included Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees, NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and actor Mark Wahlberg. She received the loudest roars, thanks to more than 20 friends and family who could be easily spotted in the gallery wearing red caps that had the number ‘3’ on the front. The ‘3’ stood for her late brother Mike and late parents Edward and Mary.
Three of the other four Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge finalists paid their own way to watch Ference’s bid in person. Joe Caselli, 50, of Woodbury, Conn., one of those finalists, said he “wouldn’t have missed it for the world because [Ference is] such a good person.”
As Ference strolled down No. 17 alongside 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, who served as her caddie, she became philosophical, recognizing the support she received. (More than 37 percent of the 65,000 votes in the contest were cast for her).
“At the end of the day, irrespective of what I shoot, I’ll at least hold the U.S. Open women’s record in this from playing the back tees,” said the 51-year-old resident of Skillman, N.J.. “I had the time of my life.”
The same could also be said for the other contestants. Wahlberg, a 14 handicap, was the only one of the three players to break 100, carding a 97. In a near magical moment, Gretzky appeared to have shot a 99 (which would have matched his iconic uniform number), but upon review, he had signed a scorecard that added up to 100, meaning he had to accept the higher score. Brees, coming in with the lowest handicap, a 3, had flown in hurriedly from Saints practice on Tuesday and fired a 102. As an aside, both of the NFL quarterbacks who previously competed in the contest, Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger, broke 100 at Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black, respectively.
Brees opened his round by going triple bogey-double bogey-triple bogey. He recovered to play to the tune of four over par through the next six holes. The last of his four pars came on the 428-yard, par-4 eighth hole, as he seemed inspired by the Jack Nicklaus axiom that No. 8 offers the greatest second shot in golf. Brees reached the green in two and guided in a 6-footer for his par.
However, two eights on the inward nine hurt him. He also ended the round with a double-bogey 7 on 18 after striking his second shot fat. PGA Tour player Bubba Watson was Brees’ caddie.
“You know what’s interesting?” said Brees. “Golf is the only sport where you have a lot of time to think about your shot before you hit. Football, throughout the course of a play, I don’t think, I react. I’m trained to do that.
“Baseball, the pitch comes, you don’t think, you react. Basketball, same thing, get your shot, you don’t think, you react. With golf, you sit there and stare at your ball, you’re looking at it, walking around and lining up and you start thinking. … You start thinking about all these problems so you have to be very strong mentally to play this sport of golf. That’s why I can really appreciate the mental toughness of these guys.”
Gretzky, a 10 handicap, walked away convinced that professional golfers aren’t given enough credit as athletes. He took the 100 in stride, adding that the quest ought to be not to shoot “higher than 100.” The four-time Stanley Cup winner could point to the eighth and ninth holes as his albatross. On the 109-yard, par-3 seventh, he jokingly asked USGA President Jim Hyler if there was a car given away for an ace on the hole.
Instead of notching an ace, he did the next-best thing – he holed out from the left-side bunker for the group’s only birdie of the day. When the ball disappeared in the hole, he raised his arms, turned to the gallery and took a bow.
“It was a lucky shot,” said Gretzky, who shot right-handed but played hockey left-handed. “When I do it, I’m just thinking about getting it on the green. When the pros do it, they’re thinking of holing it.”
His joy was short-lived because on the next hole, he rushed his swing, pushing the ball into the gallery. The ball ricocheted off a woman’s purse and into gnarly rough. He chose to re-tee the ball, which prompted him to quip, “Many times I’ve hit three times off a tee. It’s not new to me.”
PGA Tour player Ricky Barnes, who was serving as his caddie, asked him what he wanted to hit the second time around.
“Something longer,” cracked The Great One.
Gretzky ended the front nine by going 2-9-8. He later teed off on the 18th hole thinking he needed to make an eight or lower to be safely under 100. But a scoring mixup ultimately led to him signing a card for 100.
“I wish I could play No. 8 again,” said Gretzky afterward. “It’s easy for me to say now coming down 18 if I had done it over things would have been better. Because right now it doesn’t matter if I shot 99 or 100.”
It mattered to Wahlberg as he walked to the 18th tee. Except for an eight and a nine on the scorecard, he was the most consistent of the group. He shot 50 on the front, recording two of his five pars. He ended the round with four consecutive pars. He credited his caddie, PGA Tour player Rickie Fowler, for calming him down from the start.
His best three shots may have been the last three he took. With 120 yards to the hole, he stuck his approach shot on No. 18 to 15 feet. A beaming Wahlberg took off his hat and made the sign of the cross.
Afterward, Wahlberg, an avid golfer who plays at least once a week, said he couldn’t imagine doing it for a living. He knew he was in for a long day when he played a practice round with Gretzky, Barnes and Fowler on Tuesday.
“When Rickie had a hard time getting out of the rough, I knew I was in trouble,” said Wahlberg, who played left-handed but putted from the right side.
As the group huddled for final photos at the end, they had complimentary words for one another. More important, they took away a special memory despite their final scores.
For Ference, the moment might be superseded by one other – the time when she was a girl, all of 11, who begged her dad to play a hole at Pebble Beach. He finally relented on the par-3 seventh, with Ference digging into his bag for a 4-wood. She parred the hole, beating her dad.
The experience made her a lifelong golfer and she came full circle on the same Pebble Beach course on Wednesday.
Did it really matter if she broke 100?
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s web editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.