Colin Montgomerie explains the nuances of this year's US Open venue, and his near miss when Jack Nicklaus crowned him champion in 1992
This will be the sixth time Pebble Beach has hosted the US Open for the men – the women are due to visit here for the first time in 2023 – and Colin Montgomerie very nearly joined its roll call of winners on his debut here 27 years ago. The Scot runs the rule over one of the great wonders of the golfing world and that close shave back in the early ’90s…
As bizarre as it sounds some people are a bit underwhelmed by Pebble Beach. I’m quite split on it. Cypress Point down the road is a better golf course. That would be my No. 2 behind Pine Valley. At Pebble, you play 1, 2 and 3 and think what’s this about and then 4 to 10 are remarkable.
To be able to use that land like that, you would never be given permission today. You go inland from 11-16 and you’re back to the first three and then it opens up again. So nine holes are bucket list and there are nine that really aren’t.
It doesn’t come across on TV, but the greens are silly small. The 4th is the smallest and with three players and caddies the green is full. People don’t get that and how slopy and firm they are, and they forget how difficult it is to score and get the ball close.
I think Pebble Beach might be running out of time as a major venue. It’s not the longest, they can’t go back on a lot of holes and the par 5s are very reachable. It’s a very narrow piece of land so it is beginning to feel a little bit out of date, which is such a shame.
My favourite hole? That would be the 8th, which is the most underrated and toughest hole. It might be an iron off the tee as it’s 260 to the top of the cliff and then the second shot is scary as it can’t go an inch big.
I’ve got some nice history with Pebble and nearly won on my US Open debut in 1992. That was my first US major. I was out two hours before the leaders and was doing OK. I understood the conditions at the coast and they were only going to get worse, my playing partner Russ Cochran was 6- or 7-over and he felt like he was doing OK.
I was a couple under and everyone else was making mistakes. The greens are so small and firm and, with the wind, no-one was hitting them. Then I birdied 16 and I thought, ‘This is happening!’
I finished at level par which looked like it might be enough. After I finished Jack Nicklaus came down from the tower to greet me and said, “Congratulations on being our national champion.” I had never met him before.
People say it wasn’t windy early on that day but it picked up at my 6th hole, then it got a bit silly, and then really silly as we finished.
I had a horrible putt at 18. I hit my third into the front bunker with an 8-iron and left myself a four-footer which was left to right, and I must admit to hole that one was extremely good in the buffeting wind. I had bogeyed 17 but I still thought that would be good enough. Cochran thought it was enough, my caddie did, we all did.
The leaders were on the 10th when I had finished. John Simpson was my manager from IMG. He managed Nick Faldo and a few others, and he had a room at the lodge – I couldn’t afford it, but he could! He gave me his room key, which was two minutes away, and I watched it on TV.
Then Tom Kite pulled it off and Jeff Sluman also came in and beat me by a shot. They both had a similar game; they kept the ball low with a low centre of gravity and played great.
Bruce Critchley said afterwards that it would be good for my career as I wasn’t ready. I understand what he meant, it hurts some young players to try and sustain it after winning a major but I would have taken it!
When Tiger Woods won by 15 at the 2000 US Open, he holed a par putt on 16 on the last day and pumped the air, which shows how he has an eye on the record books. It was unbelievable what he was doing.
His iron play is very good and the course isn’t as long as Bethpage and that’s his best opportunity of winning another major. He hits a lot of greens and that’s what Pebble Beach is all about.
Colin Montgomerie was speaking to Mark Townsend. Montgomerie is an ambassador for Loch Lomond Whiskies, the official spirit of the Open. For more information and to buy the unique range of single malts, visit their website.