Golf Australia

Will Price be right for pristine Pebble?

Pebble Beach
A look at the long grass around some of the famous putting surfaces at Pebble Beach. Image: Getty.

The worldly and revered Nick Price has been a prominent figure strolling the fairways early this week at Pebble Beach.

His credentials badge says he’s on something called the USGA “executive committee”.

His resume – three major victories, World Golf Hall of Fame membership and twice PGA Tour player of the year – says he’s a bloody legend.

Thankfully, the majority of the field in the US Open view him as the latter.

Price, a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team, has the sort of global respect the USGA craves for its flagship men’s tournament. The organisers have recently gone as far as to appoint long-time PGA Tour player Jason Gore as its first director of player relations.

But it’s on-course where they’ll ultimately be judged with an American media almost playing a sport in the Pebble Beach press hall about how – not if – the USGA will damage the sport’s second oldest professional tournament after some high-profile errors in years just past.

Pebble Beach is nothing short of spectacular.

Any first-time visitor who has even the most fleeting interest in golf will marvel at its terrain and vistas.

But it’s not good enough for the USGA to stand safely in the background and watch the storied event – in its 119th edition and during the club’s centenary celebrations, no less – produce a winner who carves out a “regular tour” winning score, in the realm of 15-20 under.

While nobody will categorically state it as fact, it’s widely accepted that the USGA wants to produce a winning score around par.

Aside from the philosophical dilemma this creates for the game’s purists, it creates the need for this – and other venerable courses – to have an almost fake veneer as its barrier against historically low scores.

The weather has been warm so far this week, the course and greens are pristine and the wind has been unseasonably calm.

Then there’s the elephant in every golfing room these days – the great distance debate. The Golf Channel has shown stats essentially explaining that the longest driver’s average distance during previous US Open weeks at Pebble Beach – in 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000 and 2010 – have grown by approximately 15 metres per visit.

So the only option, at least as deemed by the USGA, is to grow the greenside guardian known to the entire golfing world as US Open rough.

The long grass around some of these famous putting surfaces is nothing short of brutal. There will be big scores for blokes who have several chips that don’t leave their area code, or because they’ve blasted the ball distantly in a desperate bid to escape its lush, green clutches.

In many instances, it’s going to be hit and hope.

This, of course, flies in the face of what all major championships should theoretically strive for – identifying the week’s best player.

Price has been enthusiastically welcomed into on-course discussions with many of the world’s best players, at least on a couple of occasions taking feedback, both positive and negative.

He’s also regaled them with the reasons behind some set-up decisions, many of which seem to have been well received by the game’s elite.

Price, as you’d expect of all involved with the USGA, is justifiably proud of this epic chunk of real estate laid out before the world.

The golfing community awaits anxiously in the hope his optimism and enthusiasm are both intact by Sunday night.

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