PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The great thing about Jay Monahan’s job is that he didn’t have to ask the boss if he could take the day off and play golf. He is the boss, the commissioner of the PGA Tour.
So it hardly was a surprise that the 47-year-old Monahan was out there in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday, with pros like Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson and fellow amateurs like Bill Murray, Aaron Rodgers and Larry Fitzgerald.
Roger Goodell never would be lining up to catch a punt, but there’s Monahan playing the same game as the men who in effect work for him. Well, technically the same game, if less efficiently.
Not that the commish is a hacker. The man plays off a six handicap, and Thursday in the opening round, he helped his pro, Keith Mitchell, shoot a net best ball 62, 9 under par at Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course.
OK, that’s the other part of the AT&T, the part with the laughter, the part where people have day jobs. But over the decades, in the event that was created as the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, it’s been an important part, the part that with show business people like Murray, Ray Romano and Huey Lewis, and jocks such as Rodgers, Fitzgerald and Tony Romo, helped keep the tournament on the Monterey Peninsula and on television.
Certainly, the items that matter most in the AT&T are the top of the leaderboard and the weather, in no particular order. On Thursday, Day 1, both were impressive.
Brian Gay and Scott Langley were tied for first with 64s. That’s 7 under par at Monterey Peninsula, which is the easiest of the three courses used for the AT&T, where Mickelson (65), Jason Day (65), Johnson (66), Spieth (66) and Mitchell (66), Monahan’s partner, also played.
“It was awesome,” said the commissioner, as if we would expect something less. “Chamber of Commerce day.”
But the weather will be changing, and the competitors will be changing courses, the top dogs going to Spyglass Hill on Friday — which could be a good break because, except for the early holes, the fairways are deep within Del Monte Forest.
Mickelson (four times), Johnson (twice) and Spieth all have won the AT&T over the years. They handle the conditions and, because so many in the gallery are not golf fans of the purist variety, handle the crowds. Back in time, so did Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
The best golfers are not shaken by a few raindrops or a few untimely shouts. They hit the ball, find it and hit it again, sunshine or storm.
Mickelson, 48, drove the ball unusually well.
“So history was made today,” said Phil of his round. “To the best of my knowledge, it’s taken 27 years and a few months to hit all the fairways in a single round of competition. I may have done it before, but I don’t ever recall doing it.”
There was a story recently in Sports Illustrated that keeping the ball in play was overrated, because in today’s golf it’s better to hit long than straight — excluding into bushes or hazards — and then wedge a shot out of the rough.
Yet, Mickelson said, “You’ve got to drive the ball well to attack, and I drove the ball well. I also putted well, too.”
Spieth putted well from the time he joined the Tour in 2015 until the beginning of last year. Now he seems to have regained the lost touch.
“The putts went in on the back nine instead of missed,” said Spieth, winless in 2018. “I gave myself a few more chances.”
Both he and Johnson, playing together, birdied 18.
“I would rather see the course in this condition,” said Spieth, when asked about the gathering storm. “If you don’t score well out here, you put yourself behind a bit, and it’s tough when you’ve got weather coming in because you’re trying to force it. I don’t feel I have to force anything (Friday).”
Johnson won the 2009 AT&T in a rain-shortened three rounds, then returned in 2010 to take it in a full-blown four rounds.
“I gave away a couple of shots,” Johnson said of his Thursday round, “but I thought I played really solid.”
Johnson met briefly with Monahan, the commissioner, after they finished. It was lighthearted.
“He said he had trouble on the greens today,” Johnson said about Monahan. “But he’s not the only one.”