performances go, Arron Oberholser's five-stroke win at the AT&T Pebble
Beach National Pro-Am was every bit as impressive as J.B. Holmes's seven-shot
dismemberment of the TPC of Scottsdale during the FBR Open the week before. It
was only their styles of play that were polar opposites. � Holmes, the
23-year-old prototype of the baby boomers who have become the talk of the Tour,
was overpowering, hammering 350-yard drives while turning a rock-hard desert
course into the TPC of Pitch 'n' Putt. Oberholser, a 31-year-old who grew up in
Northern California and played at nearby San Jose State, went old school on the
damp, spongy Monterey Peninsula, relying on local knowledge, strategic
shotmaking, a deft short game and a hot putter to, like Holmes, win for the
first time. To cap off his week, Oberholser and partner Mike McCallister won
the Pro-Am portion of the tournament (Backspin, page G19). That a player like
Oberholser would break through at Pebble was hardly a surprise, as winners
there are typically shotmakers ( Ben Hogan, Johnny Miller, Byron Nelson, Payne
Stewart and Tom Watson, to name a few) and brainy strategists ( Hale Irwin, Jack
Nicklaus, Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods, among others).
right into Oberholser's hand on Friday, when he was making his way around
Spyglass Hill, which with Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach is one of the three
courses used in the tournament. The temperature appeared to be headed toward a
balmy 80� under bright, sunny skies but suddenly nosedived to around 50� in the
afternoon when a layer of fog rolled in off the Pacific, turning the tournament
into The Big Chill. "I went from my summer yardages to my winter yardages
in one hole," Oberholser said. "I got done with the 5th hole, walked to
the 6th, and suddenly there's no sunshine. It changed dramatically, but I'm
used to that around here. When I woke up in the morning, I looked out the
window and said, 'The fog will be here today at some point.' I knew it was
On the par-4,
431-yard 9th hole, where he had busted a 310-yard drive two days earlier in a
practice round, Oberholser nailed a tee shot that didn't reach the 250-yard
marker, then played a four-iron to the green. "It's unbelievable," he
said, "but anybody who lives in this area knows that when nature's air
conditioner turns on, this is the home of the 150-yard seven-iron, and you have
to nut it. It's second nature for me."
Spyglass Hill and
Poppy Hills feel like second homes to Oberholser, who played them frequently
during his high school and college years. "I've been in every spot you can
possibly be in," he says, "so I have zero fear."
He didn't have many
anxious moments in the final round. Tied with Mike Weir after 54 holes,
Oberholser had a five-stroke lead by the time they reached the 4th tee. He had
birdied the 2nd and 3rd holes. Meanwhile, Weir had doubled the par-5 2nd after
his fairway wood shot hooked out-of-bounds, then bogeyed the 3rd hole when his
short-iron approach flew long. It was Oberholser's parade after that.
This looks like a
breakthrough moment for a player once known as a hothead. "There's nothing
wrong with my game; it's upstairs where I have been lacking," says
Oberholser, who claims to have found peace and maturity in the last year. In
2004 he shared the 54-hole lead at Pebble Beach with Vijay Singh, but when
Singh opened the final round with three straight birdies, Oberholser melted
down, shooting 76 to slip to a tie for fourth. Oberholser held up better at the
Wachovia Championship, where he lost a playoff to nice-guy Joey Sindelar but
advanced his growing-up process by apologizing for his poor behavior while
playing with Sindelar two weeks earlier in Houston. In November, Oberholser
picked up a $1 million check for winning the Shinhan Korea Championship.
Oberholser has a
sound game, one well-suited to tough setups like U.S. Opens. Oh, did we mention
that he tied for ninth in his first Open appearance last summer? Oberholser
looks ready to jump to the top level. That's handy because this win bumps him
into the top 50 (No. 41) in the World Ranking. If he stays there, that will
ensure his first trip to the Masters, and he has clinched a spot in next week's
Accenture Match Play Championship. Oops, that could be a small problem.
Oberholser, a bachelor, bought a house--his first--in Scottsdale and is
supposed to move in next week. "Oh, man," he said on Sunday evening,
"my mom has a lot of work ahead of her."
So does her son,
and his best work, without a doubt, is yet to come.