With Jordan Spieth holding a three or more shot lead throughout the final round, the final outcome of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was generally anti-climactic. However, for one golfer the final holes of the tournament were quite dramatic and significant.
Unless you are a die-hard golf fan, the name Rob Oppenheim is likely not significantly familiar. However, Oppenheim is the embodiment of what life is like for all except the top few professional golfers.
After playing the best golf of his 15 year professional career during the first three and a half rounds of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Oppenheim found himself near the top of the leaderboard reaching as high as fourth place with just seven holes left to play.
Considering that Oppenheim entered the weekend with only one career top 10 finish on the PGA Tour (tie for 10th at the 2016 Quicken Loans National), it was very new territory and had the potential to provide a payday matching his entire career earnings.
Though like all professional golfers Oppenheim is no stranger to pressure, you have to wonder if looking up and seeing his name listed on the same leaderboard as golf superstars Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day eventually started to get to him.
After a birdie on the 11th hole put him at 12 under par, Oppenheim then got a tough bounce on his tee shot at the par-3 12th hole and he eventually made his first bogey of the day. Given that Oppenheim had only one bogey per round through the first three days, it seemed possible that the 12th would just be a blimp as he finished the best performance of his career.
Oppenheim steadied himself with a par on the 13th, but then the wheels started to come off as he took a six on the par-5 14th hole and then suffered another bogey at the 15th.
Suddenly, the cushion Oppenheim had given himself towards a top-10 finish, big payday and guaranteed spot in the next PGA Tournament were in jeopardy.
To say that Oppenheim is a golfer who has lived his entire career on the edge could very well be a huge understatement.
Oppenheim first showed a glimpse of golfing potential when he reached the quarterfinals of the 1999 U.S. Amateur Championships, which were played at Pebble Beach.
He then had a standout career at Rollins College where he nailed a 20-foot putt to secure the 2002 NCAA Division II National Championship for his team and was named the Division II National Player of the Year.
In the decade and a half since, Oppenheim has bounced from circuit to circuit trying to achieve his goal of earning a PGA Tour Card.
In 2015 he finally achieved his goal as he claimed the last card given to the Web.com tour by a grand total of $101.
However, just a year later, after earning more than $450,000 and placing 158th in the FedEx Cup standings, Oppenheim was on the wrong side of the bubble finishing 26th in the 2016 Web.com playoffs by $392. To make it even worse, Oppenheim would have had one final chance to reach the top 25, but the last Web.com event of 2016 was cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew.
That meant his 2017 season would be a mix of Web.com events and an occasional PGA appearance. While most professional golfers get into the groove by playing every week, Oppenheim entered the Pebble Beach Pro-Am having played only three tournaments since the PGA season started at the end of October.
He made the cut, but finished tied for 72nd at the Sanderson Farm Championship that ended on October 30th. Oppenheim didn’t play another tournament until playing a pair of Web.com tour events in the Bahamas in January. He managed to make both cuts and finished tied for 7th in the second event to rank in the top 15 in Web.com tour earnings entering this week.
That Oppenheim was even in the field for the Pebble Beach event through a sponsors exemption was considered as sort of a consolation prize for having just missed his tour card last year. As it turns out, it was a pretty good prize.
A Massachusetts native, Oppenheim spent the Pro-Am playing the first three days in the same pairing as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Perhaps the success of Belichick’s team rubbed off on Oppenheim as he played tremendous golf over the first three rounds carding 12 birdies and only three bogies to enter the final round in fifth place.
After his run of three bogeys in four holes dropped Oppenheim to 8th place, his fairy tale weekend suddenly had the potential to turn into a cruel nightmare.
If he didn’t right the ship and finish the tournament in the top 10, Oppenheim’s three great rounds would basically be all for naught as he would be headed back to the Web.com tour and a season of uncertainty.
Oppenheim regained his poise with back-to-back pars to head to the 18th hole tied for 8th place. He would need a par to guarantee a top 10 finish and spot in the field for the upcoming Genesis Open.
It would have been too easy for Oppenheim had he hit his tee shot in the middle of the fairway and easily navigated his way down the course. Instead, his tee shot landed in the fairway bunker only 216 yards from the tee and leaving him four shots to go the final 329 yards.
He managed to get near the green in his next two shots, but his fourth shot was nestled near the roots of a tree guarding the green. He had to manage a tricky chip shot just to give himself a chance to earn a par.
Fortunately, the short game has always been a strength for Oppenheim and he put the ball within 10-feet of the cup, leaving him likely the most important par putt of his PGA career.
With a national television audience watching, Oppenheim approached this putt with the same confidence he had displayed 15 years earlier when sealing the national title for Rollins College. As he did with that putt, Oppenheim hit it squarely and then watched as the ball went straight into the cup to secure the best finish of his professional career.
Finishing tied with Seung-Yul Noh for eighth place, Oppenheim secured the biggest payday of his professional career (more than $200,000). Perhaps even more importantly, it secures him a PGA Tournament spot for the next tournament and the chance to continue building his PGA resume.
So while the record books will show Jordan Spieth as the winner of the 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, there was perhaps no bigger winner than Rob Oppenheim.