Gaffney alum and Clemson freshman Zack Gordon couldn’t help but mix business and pleasure Saturday during his initial visit to play famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in preparation for Monday’s start of the U.S. Amateur Championship.
It’s the first time in 19 years the California course, which features rolling cliffs and astounding ocean views, has hosted this event (Jack Nicklaus won it there in 1961) and the first time Gordon has competed.
“The first time you play it you’ll get carried away with all the views out here so you kind of got to get all the looking out of the way so you can focus on your golf game when it’s tournament time,” Gordon said. “With the views, you can play a bad hole and then just look out in the ocean and you’ll just change your mind, going from ticked off to pretty happy again with just a look.”
Gordon mentioned what’s often been said about Augusta National — it looks absolutely picturesque on television, but you’ve got to visit to truly appreciate the landscape.
“It’s way more impressive actually being out here and it’s a lot different on TV. You see a lot more cliffs and water and there’s stuff here you didn’t even know was here from just watching on television. It’s really beautiful and a fun course to play. It’s a place where if you’re hitting it well, it rewards good shots.”
He’s also among the first to test out a lengthier layout with Pebble Beach having installed new tee boxes in preparation to host next year’s U.S. Open.
“They’ve moved us back quite a bit and we’re playing a longer course than they were playing for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am,” Gordon said. They want to see how it plays.”
Gordon got into the field of 312 (from 7,643 entries) from being co-medalist at 4-under par at the 36-hole qualifier at Bluffton’s Colleton River Club. Hosting players from 23 countries and 45 states, the U.S. Amateur consists of two days of stroke play with 18 holes each on Pebble Beach and neighboring Spyglass Hill before the low 64 advance to match play.
“It’s just about trying to hang around until it gets to match play,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t matter if you win the (stroke) play event. The goal is just to make it to match play. This is definitely the biggest tournament I ever played in. It would be a lot of fun if every tournament were like this.”
Gordon’s had quite a season leading up to Clemson’s first tournament on Sept. 7 at the Carpet Capital Collegiate at The Farm in Dalton, Ga. He won the 5A individual state championship, leading Gaffney to the team title, with a record-setting 128 over 36 holes that smashed PGA Tour standout Bill Haas’ record by eight strokes. He would go on to be named the first South Carolinian selected the National High School Coaches Association Senior High School Golfer of the Year, an award previously won by the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
He’s the lone current Clemson player to qualify for this year’s field.
“With all the hard work I put in it’s nice to know it pays off when you get into an event like this,” Gordon said. “This is definitely the best I’ve been playing and my confidence is just out the roof right now. It’s led to bigger tournaments and this is as good as it gets for amateurs.”