Out of the dust bowl they call Northern California, the consensus of the early birds who played a practice round at Pebble Beach today was that some incredibly low scores would win the 59th PGA Championship that commences Thursday.
There is a haze surrounding the Pebble Beach course caused by the many brush fires in this area, particularly those of Big Sur, a few miles south of here.
Many golfers who played this afternoon reported they were hitting record drives. "The greens are fine," said Bob Gilder, one of the tour regulars."But the course is playing a lot shorter than it did in the Bing Crosby tournament this past winter. Even then, Pebble Beach wasn't really that tough."
Tom Watson, who is one of the favorites here after winning the Masters and the British Open, on the Crosby in January with a 14-under-par 273. However, Pebble Beach is only one of three courses used for the Crosby - Cypress Point and Montercy Shore are the others.
Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open here in 1972 with a two-over-par 290. The tour courses generally are torn up by the pros, as witness Bill Kratzert's victory in the Greater Hartford Open that he won with a 19-under-par 265.
Despite brave words by Don Padgett, president of the PGA, that the drought hasn't made any real difference in the Pebble Beach course, the pros think otherwise.
Jerry Barber, a little fellow who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 137 pounds, remarked today: "Even a little guy like me could win this tournament the way this course is playing." Barber won the PGA title at Olympia Fields, Ill., in 1961.
Lee Trevino, who took the PGA title at Tanglewood Golf Club, Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1974, experimented on the hard fairways today. After one bad shot, Trevino muttered: "They ought to put a match to this course."
Trevino, however, is familiar with hard fairways in his native Texas. He grew up under conditions such as these.
Those who remember Pebble Beach as a lush links would be saddened at some of the surrounding ground, which is pure dust. However, despite the drought and the emphasis on saving water (there are water-saving warnings all over this area), the Pebble Beach course has managed to preserve a decent appearance.
Art Bell, the host pro, says that the golfers will have to play "chisel" shots. He explained: "There hasn't been any water and replacing divots is a hopeless job because the grass doesn't grow without moisture. There will be a lot more emphasis on half-shots, which most of the pros don't like."
Trevino agreed. "Once you start taking half-shots," he said, "it hurts you. I'd hate to come in here all tensed up because there are going to be some weird shots playled on this course."
There are 141 players entered thus far. Defending champion Dave Stockton is considered little threat although he finally got his game under control at Hartford, tying for 22d at 275. He stand 45th on the money-winning list, having earned a little more than $50,000.
Of interest to Washington-area golf fans are three representatives, including Lee Elder, who made such a fine showing at Hartford; Larry Ringer, assistant pro at the Naval Academy, and George Burns, former cocaptain of the University of Maryland golf team.