PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — What was shaping up as one the biggest controversies in golf this year also turned out to be the shortest one.
The Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews will be left alone.
The outrage, bordering on horror, began with social media images of the St. Andrews Links Trust extending the start of the bridge to include a circular patio of stones that did not look like they had been there for 700 years.
“The ongoing works are solely focused on the turfed approach area to the bridge, which regularly falls into disrepair due to the significant foot traffic by tens of thousands of golfers and countless other visitors seeking to have their photograph taken at the landmark,” St. Andrews said in a statement issued Sunday.
Golf Digest met with Links Trust officials on Monday. Laurie Watson, the external relations and media manager, told Digest the area in front of the bridge was a quagmire just three months after the British Open. Watson said the Links Trust has tried using artificial turf, rubber rocks and turf seeding, and yet nothing has worked.
“So this is the next step in trying to find a potential solution,” Watson told Golf Digest.
And then it wasn’t. A few hours later, the Links Trust, which oversees the Old Course and six other public courses in the Scottish town, said it was abandoning the plan.
“The stonework at the approach and exit of the bridge was identified as one possible long-term solution, however while this installation would have proved some protection, in this instance we believe we are unable to create a look which is in keeping with its iconic setting and have taken the decision to remove it,” said an updated statement issued Monday.
The bridge, regarded as the most famous landmark in golf, originally was built to allow shepherds to get across the small stream. In recent years, shepherds have given way to the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, all of whom have been photographed crossing it for the final time at the home of golf.
His PGA Tour debut was largely unnoticed until deep in the weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and only then because the same question kept coming up.
Who is Paul O’Hara? And how did he get in Pebble Beach?
The short answer would be the player with the largest collection of titles in the field.
O’Hara is a 36-year-old from Scotland, the younger brother of Steven O’Hara on the European tour. He is a PGA professional who cleans up on the regional Scottish PGA circuits (36 wins in the last five years, 62 overall) and that doesn’t include his play on the Tartan Tour.
One of those regional events was at Skibo Castle, and his amateur that week was Colorado developer Patrick Hamill, a regular in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He raved about O’Hara to Pebble Beach officials.
Steve John, the tournament director, was even more impressed with the letter O’Hara wrote seeking an exemption.
The Monterey Peninsula Foundation offered him an exemption, and John laughs at calling O’Hara to give him the news.
“He said, ‘Can I come tomorrow?’ It was snowing in Glasgow and he couldn’t practice,” John said.
O’Hara arrived a full week before the tournament, so early that no courtesy cars were available, so John let him use his own car to play and practice at Monterey Peninsula (“He’s practically a member now,” John said) along with Tehama Golf Club and other courses around the peninsula.
O’Hara had never made the cut in seven European tour events dating to 2017. And then he came to California for his first PGA Tour event and made the cut on the number.
He played the final round alongside three-time major champion Jordan Spieth.
Alas, his memorable week ended with a double bogey on the ninth hole, dropping him to last place among 75 players who made the cut. He made $17,550.
BACK TO HER ROOTS
Few other LPGA Tour players touch so many parts of the world as Albane Valenzuela.
Born in New York, she moved to Mexico when she was 3 and then to Geneva three years later. She became a Swiss citizen at age 14 and was a Phi Beta Kappa when she graduated from Stanford with a degree in political science. She speaks four languages.
And now she has a Ladies European Tour card.
Valenzuela, a two-time Olympian, turned pro in the fall of 2019 and has spent the last three years on the LPGA with incremental success. She locked up her LPGA card for 2023 by finishing 68th in the Race to CME Globe.
And then she went to Spain in December to earn an LET card. She tied for sixth in Q-school, making it easily. Part of the appeal is the strongest LET schedule in history, and a big part is the Solheim Cup.
“There’s so many events worldwide and I think it’s great as a professional golfer to have options to play globally,” Valenzuela said. “I obviously play a lot on the LPGA Tour and that will be my focus, but to be able to play a few events on the LET will be really fun.
“One of my big goals is to eventually play in the Solheim Cup, so I would love to make the team and that’s part of the process.”
She starts her season this week in Morocco and is in the field for the Saudi Ladies International the following week.
RYDER AND RYDER
Two weeks after Sam Ryder nearly captured his first PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines, more TV time is coming his way.
Ryder has a corporate deal with Ryder System Inc. (it’s a natural fit). The transportation company is launching a multimillion-dollar sponsorship and advertising campaign with the PGA Tour player.
Ryder already has his “name” on the crest of the shirt. The campaign has a series of humorous television, print and digital ads in which Ryder tries to explore why Ryder wanted to sponsor him and what he can offer. One spot includes him playing bongo drums. He has no future there.
The announcement comes the week of the Phoenix Open, where a year ago Ryder first made news inside the ropes with his hole-in-one on the 16th hole during the raucous third round.
The number Tony Finau saw on a yardage plate on the 13th tee when he played Augusta National in November is now listed in the Masters media guide. The par 5 known as “Azalea” now measures 545 yards, with a new tee that is 35 yards farther back. … Justin Rose is the first European to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. … Gregory Odom Jr. of Howard University has received the “Pathway Player” exemption to play in the college showcase the Monday before the Genesis Invitational at Riviera. The winner of the showcase gets a spot in the field. The exemption is for college players from a minority background who excel on the course and in school. … Dustin Johnson is projected to fall out of the top 50 in the world next week for the first time since 2009.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Justin Rose has 11 wins on the PGA Tour. Seven were at courses that have held either a major or a Ryder Cup — Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Colonial, Congressional, Merion, Aronimink and Muirfield Village.
“I think the format this week, playing with amateurs, kind of just mellowed me out to the point where I let it happen. I let my good golf come forward. It’s obviously a learning lesson in that.” — Justin Rose on winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.