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As Jean Swafford approached the 18th green last Thursday during the first round of the U.S. Open, she pulled out a tiny camera that she had sneaked onto the grounds. The name hudson swafford—her son, not a freight company or something—was on the greenside leader board. Hudson, the last man off in the final group on the back nine, was two under par and threatening to become the annual Unknown First-Round Open Leader. "That's too hard to pass up for a mom," said Jean as she snapped a photo of the board.
The Cinderella story continued until the sun dropped low in a glorious evening sky over the Monterey Peninsula. Young Swafford, who will be a senior at Georgia this fall, was still one under par when he teed it up on the 8th hole, the start of a spectacular coastline stretch known as the Cliffs of Doom. The holes dazzled the Swaffords, from Tallahassee, Fla. This was their first trip to Pebble Beach.
"They are the most amazing visual images I've seen on a golf course," Jean said. "We don't have anything like this in Florida."
Added David Swafford, Hudson's wizened father, "Toughest holes I've ever seen."
Then the metaphorical clock struck midnight. Hudson's approach shot across the gaping chasm that makes number 8 the most spectacular view in championship golf got caught in a crosswind and dropped into the hazard. Double bogey.
At the 9th, Swafford launched a drive that landed in the fairway, kicked right and kept running down the slope—right over the edge of the cliff, thanks to a new USGA mowing pattern designed to add an element of danger to the hole. Only a six-foot sliver of modestly deeper grass stood between the fairway and cliff's edge. ("Just enough so the mowers don't go over the edge," USGA course setup man Mike Davis said.)
Swafford took a drop and hit an iron shot into thick rough and fescue near a gaping greenside bunker. Caddies, players and Swafford's parents joined the ensuing search. The marshals assigned to the hole, however, did not join the search. It was nearing eight o'clock, and they had deserted their post even though play was not over. "We tromped around all over in there," David said. "We never found it."
Hudson replayed the shot and ended up making an 8. The double-quadruple finish dropped him from the stuff of dreams to just another 76. He absorbed the unlucky finish with his usual stoicism. The next day, Jean revealed, "He was joking later that night with his caddie, Cory Guzzo, because he had made a birdie on the 17th and said, 'We both did this great fist pump there, and they showed it on ESPN!' That's when I knew he had forgotten about the last two holes."
Despite making birdie on the final hole of the second round, Swafford missed the cut by a stroke. The Cliffs of Doom had struck again.
Pebble Beach has a surplus of scenery and famous holes, notably the par-5 18th and the par-3 7th, but, pardon the bias, the 8th, 9th and 10th holes are the finest as well as the strongest holes at the Beach. Last week the 10th was the fourth most difficult (4.41 stroke average), while the 9th was fifth (4.39) and the 8th was eighth (4.30). Only the 2nd hole, a converted par-5, was tougher among the par-4s (4.46). On Sunday the final three twosomes played the three holes in a combined 10 over par.