Ringing new meaning to the term slow play, the 1998 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am finally got its champion on Monday when Phil Mickelson shot a 67 on a pleasant, overcast day at Pebble Beach Golf Links for a three-round total of 14-under-par 202, a stroke better than runner-up Tom Pernice Jr. The round took 6½ months to play.
More than just the climate has changed since the Pro-Am was postponed on Monday, Feb. 2, due to a particularly virulent strain of Crosby Weather. Back then Mark O'Meara was dogged by a history of choking in the majors, Se Ri Pak was an overwhelmed rookie with an uncertain future, there were five Spice Girls, and the public was just being introduced to a former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. In fact the '98 Pro-Am will surely go down as the only tournament in history in which a player struggled through a midlife crisis between the second and third rounds. Tom Watson, 48, was tied for the lead at 10 under when the tournament was put on hold. Before it resumed he acknowledged splitting up with his wife and giving up drinking. He also won only his second tournament in 11 years, the MasterCard Colonial in May. Alas, the new Watson had trouble picking up where the old one had left off, as he shot a lackluster 73 at Poppy Hills to tumble to a tie for ninth place.
Life has changed for Mickelson too. He breezed to a victory at the season-opening Mercedes Championships and afterward crowed that this would be the year he finally won a major. It didn't happen. After the PGA Championship, in which he finished 34th, Mickelson said, "I don't know how I'm going to get motivated for the rest of the year." A day later, standing behind the 18th green at Pebble, he had found the answer. "This means a lot to me because up until now this season has been disappointing."
It was this journey back to the future that made the Pro-Am such mind-bending fun. At what other tournament would the lift, clean and place rule be in effect on a muggy, 70° day in mid-August? (The final round had to be played under the identical rules as the preceding two.) Who would have guessed that players would be griping about their rotten luck at having to play Pebble Beach Golf Links instead of Poppy Hills? (Among the most reviled courses in tournament golf, Poppy was considered the place to be on Monday because the baked fairways made all five of its par 5s reachable in two.) Where else could you feel cursed after making a hole in one? (When the third round was suspended on Feb. 1, players who were already on the course had their scores expunged from the records, meaning Neal Lancaster's ace on Pebble's 12th hole never happened.)
In the bizarro world of the '98 Pro-Am, players had trouble keeping up with even the most rudimentary details. "I don't even remember what my swing thought was back then," said Steve Elkington in the days leading up to the restart.
"I'm not sure what course I'm playing," said Skip Kendall. (Kendall could be excused for being distracted. Eleven weeks ago he became a father for the first time, one of 11 Tour players whose wives have had babies since Feb. 1.)
As a result of the unprecedented makeup date, the Pro-Am lost much of its star power but gained innumerable sub-plots. O'Meara (the defending champ), David Duval, Jack Nicklaus, PGA winner Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods were among the 34 players from the original field of 168 who withdrew rather than make the pilgrimage to a tournament they had no chance of winning. (The ams in the Pro-Am were not invited back.) Many who returned did so because Pebble now loomed even larger in the money race, for golfers at the top and the bottom of the list. The Pro-Am's $2.5 million purse is exceeded only by those of the four majors, the Players Championship and the Tour Championship. Combined with the PGA Championship's purse, $5.5 million was up for grabs in a matter of 24 hours.
"A one-day shoot-out for $2.5 million? Bring it on," Scott McCarron said before the restart. "I'd play in a parking lot for that kind of money. I mean, you can have a great year in the span of two days."
Ask Elkington. Since his promising 70-68 to start the Pro-Am (four shots off the lead), the sweet-swinging Aussie has suffered through sinus surgery and viral meningitis. Elkington limped into the PGA without a top-10 finish in his 12 previous appearances, buried at 166th on the money list with only $84,025. He came in third at Sahalee to earn $204,000 and then made $83,750 more for his tie for sixth at Pebble. Not that money buys happiness.
Moments after signing his scorecard at Sahalee, Elkington was asked if he was looking forward to Pebble Beach. "Are you f———crazy, mate?" he said. "You think I care about Pebble Beach? I could've just won the PGA Championship."