16 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 1-7, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Jordan Spieth got his wish. A year ago at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, rumors circulated of a possible change to the tournament’s format. There was speculation that celebrities would be dropped from the field, that amateur play could be cut short, that the PGA Tour might elevate Pebble Beach to signature event status. Spieth, the 2017 tournament champion also known for a death-defying cliff-dangling shot in 2022, met with media members and addressed the matter. Imagine, he said, the world’s two hottest golfers dueling on 16, 17 and 18. Imagine, he added, a lineup of top 10 players trying to hunt them down. “It would be must-watch television,” he told reporters. “I would love to see it happen somehow.” Golf is not like many other sports. There are winners and standings and points to be earned, certainly. But the players are not required to take part in each event—nor are all qualified. In brief, a maximum of 156 golfers start a typical four-day tournament on the PGA Tour. Already—after just four events of the 2024 schedule—over 200 have played at least two rounds on tour, and that number will grow. More than 8,600 professionals are listed in the Official World Golf Rankings. There is also a rift in the game. Two years ago Saudi Arabia launched the rival LIV Golf tour, backed by funding from the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, which according to reports, sits on assets of more than $600 billion. The LIV tour poached some players from the PGA and Europe’s DP World Tour for guaranteed contracts, some in the triple-figure millions. In June of 2023, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan shocked the golfing world by announcing a tentative agreement to merge the three organizations, with the PGA overseeing on course events and PIF providing financial support. The deadline for formalizing the agreement has since passed and talks continue. Signature events are, in part, the PGA Tour’s response to this. In August, the PGA Tour confirmed Pebble Beach as a signature event, one of eight on the 2024 schedule. With that status comes a powerful incentive—a prize purse of $20 million (last year the ProAm paid $9 million overall), with some $3.6 million slated for the winner. For golfers chasing the FedEx Cup, there’s another carrot: more points available toward the season championship. And the field is limited to 80 of the top professionals, with no cut. Every pro in the field takes home a share of the money. Shoring up the line against more LIV departures is a big reason why signature events were created. There is, however, a second impetus for big stage tournaments, one that Spieth alluded to last year. “The fans have been telling us they want to see the best play against each other,” explains John Norris, senior vice president of tournament business for the PGA Tour. The concept boiled down to a select number of events bringing the biggest names to the iconic courses. Pebble Beach, he adds, “was kind of a no-brainer. If we didn’t have Pebble Beach as a signature event, people would say, ‘Are you kidding me?’” This, of course, required a lot of scrambling to reshape a week that had been centered around celebrities as well as tour pros since Bing Crosby invited friends out for a little golf, a bit of hijinks and a portion of charity in 1937. In the new format, the 80 pros will be paired with 80 amateurs over two courses—Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Pebble Beach Golf Links—over two days. Saturday and Sunday, only the professionals continue at Pebble Beach. Monterey Peninsula Country Club was dropped from the lineup. Also gone from the field are fan favorites like Bill Murray, Ray Romano and other celebrities. A few star athletes—Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Buster Posey among them—are the remaining names in an amateur field of corporate executives. For Steve John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, the nonprofit responsible for organizing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the loss of notable amateurs is balanced by a gain that puts the tournament on par with the sport’s lauded majors—The Masters, the U.S. Open, Britain’s The Open Championship and The PGA. “The best players in the world are coming to Pebble Beach for the first time,” he says with evident enthusiasm. “If you’re a golf fan, buckle up.” As of Jan. 27, 18 of the top 20 golfers in the world are in the field, and 48 of last year’s FedEx Cup top 50. World no. 1 Scottie Scheffler is appearing for the first time, as are no. 12 Collin Morikawa, no. 13 Tom Kim and no. 19 Cameron Young. World no. 2 Rory McIlroy joins defending FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland (no. 4) on the board. Infrequent participants like Patrick Cantlay (no. 6) is teeing up, as is Xander Schauffele (no. 5). The only other time Schauffele played the Pro-Am was in 2017. His absence is an example of a trend that has troubled the event in recent years. While the tournament remained a draw for amateurs and fans, more of the leading names in golf chose to skip Pebble Beach, often citing longer playing times—often six hours or more—and a distaste for the unique atmosphere. Working quickly, tournament organizers transformed the Pro-Am, attracting a different set of superstars. By Dave Faries Stars Aligned AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am “It would be must-watch television.” “If you’re a golf fan, buckle up.” Scottie Scheffler, ranked no. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is among 14 top golfers making their first appearance at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year. Mark Newcombe CBKfoto