As we see 2012 out the door and get ready to usher in 2013, it’s time to look back at the year gone by as we get ready for a new year and a new golf season. Here is an overview of some of the people and events that made headlines in Bay Area golf in 2012:
February 9-10: Tiger Woods returns to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am; Mickelson takes the win
The Bay Area and Central Coast’s golf year begins with the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. The weather is often a big part of the story for the AT&T, but in 2012 the biggest buzz came from the news that Tiger Woods, never a fan of the pro-am format or the oft-times bumpy poa annua greens at Pebble, was returning to the site of his dominating 2000 U.S. Open victory for the first time in a decade. Paired with Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo, Woods made a big move up the leaderboard on Saturday to position himself for a run at the victory.
Unfortunately for Woods, 3-time AT&T champion Phil Mickelson had other ideas. Mickelson, who made a big move of his own on Friday, climbing 33 spots up the leaderboard after a mediocre opening round, was paired with Woods – a match made in TV-ratings heaven – for Sunday’s final round. Completely overshadowing the final pairing of Charlie Wi and winless PGA Tour journeyman Ken Duke, Woods and Mickelson stole the spotlight during Sunday’s TV coverage.
The Woods-Mickelson pairing was an uneven contest however, as “Phil the Thrill” steamrollered the field with an 8-under 64 while Woods struggled to a 3-over 75. Mickelson’s final round overcame his 6-shot deficit relative to 54-hole leader Charlie Wi, who shot an even-par 72, giving Mickelson the win by two strokes.
My personal favorite moment in the final round came at the par-3 twelfth hole. Woods had left his tee shot in the left front bunker while Mickelson was on the green, but facing a long, tricky downhill putt for birdie. Woods elicited roars from the crowd with a dramatic hole-out from the bunker, but Mickelson stared him down with a dead-center birdie putt from 30+ feet above the hole.
June 21-24: United States Open Championship comes to San Francisco’s Olympic Club
The Olympic Club in San Francisco became the third five-time host of the United States Open, along with New York’s Winged Foot Golf Club and Pebble Beach Golf Links, when golf’s North American ruling body brought its most prestigious tournament back to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012.
Local, national and international storylines abounded at the 112th U. S. Open. Bay Area pros Michael Allen and James Hahn qualified for the field in a tough two-round sectional tournament which was held at nearby Harding Park Golf Course and Lake Merced Golf Club.
Hahn, 31, of Alameda, flew back to the Bay Area from the East Coast after notching his first Nationwide Tour victory in Raleigh, North Carolina, landing at SFO at 12:30 AM for a 7:00 AM tee time. With no more than 3 hours of sleep under his belt, he battled wet, windy weather to come out on top of the qualifying field by a single stroke, earning his way into the field at the U. S. Open.
Another Bay Area pro, Michael Allen, 53, a native of San Mateo who now calls Scottsdale, Arizona, home, finished one stroke back of James Hahn in the Harding Park/Lake Merced qualifier to earn his way in to the Open. Allen has played Olympic numerous times over the years, ever since he became a junior member of the club at age 14, but he failed to make it into the event the two previous times the Open was played at Olympic during his golf career – in 1987 and 1998.
Course setup is always a story at the U. S. Open, with tight fairways and fast greens being the order of the day. The biggest course setup story at The Olympic Club in 2012 was the addition of a tee box at the 16th hole, stretching the long, left-curving par-5 to a monstrous 670 yards – the longest in U. S. Open history.
Ironically, the 16th hole had its biggest impact on the tournament when played at its shortest. In Sunday’s final round the par-5 hole was played from the forward-most teebox, at a length of 562 yards. Jim Furyk, who was leading as he came to the 16th hole, snap-hooked his tee shot into the trees left of the fairway, making a 6 on the hole for the third of four bogeys on the day. The +1 on the 16th hole was the stroke that dropped him behind eventual winner Webb Simpson.
The 2012 Open was unkind to some of the world’s top players. The first- and second-ranked players in the world at the time, England’s Luke Donald and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, both failed to make the cut, as did 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson. World #3, Lee Westwood, of England, could do no better than a 4-way tie for 10th place, four strokes back of the winning score.
In local stories, James Hahn failed to make the cut for the weekend, shooting 73, 80. Michael Allen made the cut, played the weekend, and finished T-56 in the 72-man field with rounds of 71-73-77-73–294.
July 16-22: U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, Lake Merced Golf Club
The cream of the Girls Under-18 golf world came to Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City last July to contest the USGA’s 2012 Girls Junior Championship. The event was anticipated to play out as a showdown between 15-year-old Lydia Ko, a New Zealander of Korean descent who was the #1-ranked female amateur in the world at the time, and 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn, a Thai golfer who had been blazing a trail across the world of girls’ junior golf for a couple of years.
Things rarely go as anticipated in the world of golf, however, and though Ko and defending champion Jutanugarn were in the hunt late in the tournament, it was Alison Lee, 17, a Korean-American rising high school senior from Valencia, California, and Minjee Lee, 16, an Australo-Korean from Perth, on Australia’s west coast, who battled it out for the championship.
It was Alison Lee who took Lydia Ko out of the running, defeating her in a closely-fought semi-final match that went to the 17th hole, while Minjee Lee defeated Jutanugarn 3 and 1 in their semifinal match to advance to the championship match. In the end, it was the Australian Lee who took the trophy, downing her SoCal competitor in a tight 36-hole match that went to the final green.
Bay Area girl Casie Cathrea, of Livermore, advanced farthest of any NorCal competitor, and among all 34 California competitors in the event only runner-up Alison Lee finished ahead of her. Casie’s quarterfinal match against Ariya Jutanugarn was a battle royale that came down to the 17th hole. Closely-fought all the way, the match drew an ever-growing crowd of spectators as it progressed, but Jutanugarn prevailed by the narrowest of margins.
July 27-29: Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach
The First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, sponsored this year by Nature Valley, is a Champions tour event with a unique format. Uniting players from the Champions Tour (the 50+ follow-on to the PGA Tour) with junior players from The First Tee, a nationwide program that aims to develop life skills in young people through the game of golf, the tournament follows the same basic program as its better-known cousin, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am – it is played over three venues (Del Monte, Spyglass Hill, and Pebble Beach), and the pro-junior and pro-amateur teams play through to the finish together, provided they make the cut.
The 2012 edition of the First Tee Open saw a first-time winner take the podium – 50-year-old Kirk Triplett, in his first season on the Champions Tour. Triplett was paired with junior partner Laura Arellano of the Central Valley chapter of The First Tee.
October 11-14: Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Resort
As the closest PGA Tour event to the Bay Area, the Frys.com Open offered local golf fans a unique opportunity to see PGA Tour golf in a nearby venue, amidst the rolling hills overlooking the southern Santa Clara Valley. As a Fall Series event, one of four post-FedEx Cup tournaments that offer Tour pros a last chance to finish well, make some money, and improve their standings on the money list, the Frys.com Open doesn’t draw too many of the big names, but skipping the opportunity to watch the pros battle it out on CordeValle’s lovely and challenging Robert Trent Jones Jr. course is a mistake.
The 2012 edition had a few recognizable personalities in the field, most notably Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, and 2012 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, but the blistering pace set by eventual winner Jonas Blixt, of Sweden, was too much for the rest of the field. Blixt was the only player to shoot four rounds in the 60s, and his rounds of 66-68-66-68 outlasted charges by Tim Petrovic, who shot a final round 64 to finish one stroke back, and Jimmy Walker, whose final round 62 – one of two shot during the tournament – wasn’t enough to make up for his first round score of 73 as he finished T-4.
Other 2012 highlights
Several other items made golf news for the Bay Area in 2012:
Sharp Park supporters win legal battle seeking closure of the course
Historic Sharp Park, an Alister-Mackenzie-designed golf course in Pacifica, came under fire in 2008 from extreme environmentalists led by an Arizona-based group calling themselves the Center for Biological Diversity. After much legal battling, and aided by a tremendous groundswell of support from the Bay Area golf community spearheaded by the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, on December 7th, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston dismissed the lawsuit, which had aimed to close the course on the basis that golf operations there put the threatened California red-legged frog and endangered San Fracisco garter snakes populations in jeopardy. Judge Illston found that golf at Sharp Park “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the California red-legged frog or San Francisco garter snake.”
USA-China Youth Golf Match at CordeValle Resort
CordeValle Golf Resort in San Martin hosted the second USA-China youth Golf match, a USGA-sponsored event that was created to foster communications and relations between the youth golf movements in the two countries. Despite being thousands of miles from home and playing in the late-summer heat of the South Valley, the Chinese team prevailed over their American opponents 9 and 7, coming on especially strong in the singles matches, where they outscored the Americans 6-1/2 points to 1-1/2.
Sebastian Crampton, a rising senior at Robert Louis Stevenson High School on the Monterey Peninsula, was a member of the U.S. squad contesting the match.
NorCal golfers help U.S retain Junior Ryder Cup title
While the memories of the so-called “Meltdown at Medinah” – the ignoble drubbing of the American Ryder Cup squad by the European team last September – are still painful for many U.S. golf fans, the junior edition of the event was won by the U.S. squad, which included a pair of NorCal golfers, Casie Cathrea, of Livermore, and Cameron Champ, of Sacramento. Cathrea and Champ were paired in the afternoon four-balls on the first day of the event, winning their match against the British pairing of Brontë Law and Toby Tree. Cathrea was one of three members of the American squad to go undefeated in their matches.