In just over a week and a half, over the three days from September 26 to 28, the eyes of the golf world will mostly be focused on the Ryder Cup matches being held at Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland. Here in Central California, however, many legends of the golf world, including several players with notable Ryder Cup backgrounds, will be playing in the Champion Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills.
While the field for the First Tee Open isn’t fully set at this point, among the players who have committed to the tournament are a number of former U.S. Ryder Cup team members, including three former U.S. Ryder Cup captains. Ben Crenshaw (1999), Tom Lehman (2006), and Davis Love III (2012) are golfers with extensive experience as Ryder Cup players who have also lent their expertise to the U.S. effort as team captains.
Ben Crenshaw played on four Ryder Cup teams – 1981, 1983, 1987 and 1995 – and in 1999 presided over the dramatic Sunday comeback at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. when the U.S. Team scored 8-1/2 points and reclaimed the cup by a single point. Crenshaw, who was the 1976 Pebble Beach Pro-Am champion, is a veteran of several First Tee Open appearances, and in 2011 won the Junior-Pro competition with playing partner Casie Cathrea, of Livermore.
Tom Lehman was a member of Captain Ben Crenshaw’s 1999 Ryder Cup squad and a member, along with Crenshaw, of the 1995 squad that lost a 1-point squeaker to the Euro team at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. Lehman also played on the 1997 U.S. team that again lost to the Euros by a point, at Valderrama, Spain. The 1999 Brookline win was the high point of Lehman’s Ryder Cup career, as his 2006 captaincy saw the U.S. team soundly defeated, 9-1/2 to 18-1/2, at the K Club in Kildare, Ireland.
Davis Love III, whose misfortune it was to skipper the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the 2012 matches which have come to be known as “The Meltdown at Medinah”, is the most experienced Ryder Cup stalwart in the field, with six straight appearances as a player, from 1993 through 2004, and one as an assistant captain, in 2010, before being tapped for the captaincy two years ago. The First Tee Open will be the 50-year-old Love’s second Champions Tour event; among his 20 PGA Tour victories are two Pebble Beach National Pro-Am titles, 2001 and 2003.
Other players in the field for the Nature Valley First Tee Open with U.S. Ryder Cup experience include Mark Calcavecchia (1987, 1989, 1991, 2002); Jay Haas (1983, 1995, 2004); Hale Irwin (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1991); Larry Nelson (1979, 1981, 1987); Mark O’Meara (1985, 1989, 1991, 1997, 1999); Steve Pate (1991, 1999); Scott Simpson (1987); Craig Stadler (1983,1985); and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979, 1983, 1985)
The Nature Valley First Tee Open is a 54-hole Champions Tour event benefitting the First Tee, a nonprofit youth development organization utilizing the game of golf and its inherent values to help young people build character and learn life skills. Champions Tour pros are paired with junior players from First Tee chapters all across the country, and will play Friday and Saturday at famed Pebble Beach Golf Links and the newly-renovated Poppy Hills Golf Course, the home course of the 150,000-member Northern California Golf Association. Final round play will be conducted at Pebble Beach on Sunday.
The tournament is hosted by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which also stages the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and as a gift back to the community from the Foundation and tournament sponsor Nature Valley, admission to all three days of the event is free.