Golf

Lefty's Pebble Beach ties run deep

Image: Phil Mickelson (© Jeff Chiu/AP)
Phil Mickelson's marker coin at Pebble Beach is a special memento.
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PEBBLE BEACH, California (AP)

Phil Mickelson's connection with Pebble Beach runs deeper than his four victories.

It's the coin in his pocket.

HEARTBREAKER

See Phil Mickelson's putt lip out as he falls agonizingly short of shooting 59.

Mickelson's grandfather, Al Santos, grew up in Monterey and had to leave school at age 9 to go to work. He was a caddie at Del Monte Golf Course and was among the first caddies to work at a new golf course that opened in 1919 called Pebble Beach.

''He always felt poor, and there were many days where he wasn't able to eat,'' Mickelson said.

Santos kept in his pocket a silver dollar from 1900 that he never spent. Instead, he rubbed the coin whenever he felt poor, a small comfort to know that he had money. He died in 2004, just months before Mickelson won the first of his four majors.

''I have that silver dollar today, and I've used it during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as a marker, and will continue to do so,'' Mickelson said in a conference call last month. ''And he used to work, I believe, for 35 cents a bag around that course. And it's just a cool feeling to have the money that he cherished and also to see what we are now playing for in prize money, and how far the game of golf has come. It's a great reminder for me.''

With his win last week, Mickelson is approaching $69 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour.

Mickelson said his grandfather gave him an old Krugerrand that he keeps, along with some 50-cent pieces Mickelson's father gave him, and military coins he has collected over the years. But that 1900 silver dollar is special.

''His silver dollar is the one I prefer to mark with, especially in the competition at Pebble Beach,'' Mickelson said.

HURRY UP

If the USGA wants to fix slow play in golf, it should start with the PGA Tour. Robert Lusetich explains.

Slow play

Golf is starting to get serious about the pace of play — at least officials are talking a good game.

One week after PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced a comprehensive study on pace of play, the US Golf Association said it has started its own study that is looking at four areas — golf course design, the way the course is set up (green speed, length of rough), managing tee times so a golf course is not crowded and education.

''Pace of play has been an issue for decades, but it has now become one of the most significant threats to the game's health,'' USGA president Glen Nager said. ''Five-hour-plus rounds of golf are incompatible with life in modern society, where there are many alternative forms of entertainment and sport that fit more comfortably into the compressed time that we have available for recreation and relaxation.

''Pace of play is a problem, for both men and women, at the professional level, the elite amateur level, and the recreational level,'' he said. ''Now, more than ever, the golf community needs to act.''

So much of slow play comes from anecdotal evidence, though USGA executive director Mike Davis mentioned some empirical evidence. He said officials at Pinehurst have determined that it takes 30 minutes longer to play for each foot of speed on the Stimpmeter — the difference between greens at 12 and 13, for example.

''I'm not sure we have all the answers,'' Davis said. ''We're not the only ones doing it. But I sense that the industry, if it really tries, can make a dent on this.''

Davis also said the USGA wants to promote more nine-hole rounds and different formats, such as match play or the Stableford system, to move things along.

Gangnam Style

James Hahn is off to a solid start in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, and he's already made a name for himself.

All because of one birdie. And one dance. On one very famous hole.

Hahn heard some of the chatter about how to react with a birdie on the 16th hole of the Phoenix Open, the rowdiest hole in golf. He thought about waving the left hand like Beyonce in ''If You Like It.''

He settled on Psy's ''Gangnam Style,'' dancing his way off the green as the crowd roared. Two days later, the YouTube views were approaching 200,000 hits.

''I can't believe that I did that,'' Hahn said. ''It's bringing the fun back into golf, especially with me being a rookie. It gives me a little breathing room, an ice-breaker for me and a welcome. Whether you guys hear from me, if this is my last event or if this is the first of 100 press conferences, it's all a fun experience for me.''

Long and short of it

The US Open at Merion will be the shortest course for a major championship in eight years.

Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, said Merion, which has not hosted a major since 1981, will be 6,992 yards (6,394 meters) on the scorecard. The last major course that was less than 7,000 yards (6,400 meters) was Shinnecock Hills for the 2004 US Open, which played 6,996 yard (6.397 meters). Merion will be the shortest since Southern Hills, which was 6,973 (6,376) in 2001.

Retief Goosen won both those US Opens.

''Merion is just this wonderful blend of short and long holes,'' Davis said at the USGA's annual meeting. ''By the time you walk off the fourth green, you're done with the par 5s. . . . I think it's going to be unique in the sense that you are going to see many more birdie opportunities at Merion than you are going to see at most any other US Opens. But also, there are some critically tough holes at Merion.''

It's small in other ways.

The USGA decided to cut down on tickets because Merion, located near Philadelphia, is not a big piece of property like Bethpage Black or Pinehurst. The USGA will take a financial hit compared with other venues, but it felt it was worth it.

''We felt this is the right thing for the game of golf, to bring it back to a straighter test and let's see,'' Davis said. ''So in my view, it's short. But it's a fabulous test of golf.''

Tagged: Phil Mickelson, James Hahn

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