PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Spencer Tibbits promised his first U.S. Open would be a learning experience, no matter what happened this week at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
What happened was he played even-par golf over his final 27 holes. He scrambled from every conceivable position and lie. He recorded no score worse than bogey in his two rounds.
He missed the cut to play on the weekend, after it all, by one stroke.
What he learned, he said, was all the talk of tiny greens and punishing U.S. Open setups is not idle chatter.
He learned how special the talent is among players at this level.
He learned to appreciate the views on a golf course that tests the limits of adjectival vocabulary for anyone trying to describe it.
Tibbits closed his tournament Friday with a birdie on No. 18 to finish off an even-par 71 after a Thursday 74. By mid-afternoon, as the cut line settled at no higher than 2-over par, Tibbits’ two-day total of 3-over 145 left him on the outside for Saturday and Sunday.
“I grinded my heart out,” he said after signing his scorecard. “I made up-and-downs from everywhere.”
Tibbits was, in fact, frequently brilliant from rough and bunker. He had to be.
He acknowledged he didn’t hit many greens in regulation — 47 percent, to be exact, according to USGA stats, tied for 128th in the field over 36 holes.
On Friday, he hit only eight of 18 greens. He saved par from the rough or sand on the third, 10th, 12th and 17th holes.
His wedge game saved him from double-bogey or worse on No. 2, when his shot out of a fairway bunker flew into heavy junk far right of the green.
From there, he did well to pop it up and into greenside rough, from which he flop-chipped to four feet and made the putt for bogey.
A chip from the rough on the rugged par-5 No. 6 led to a two-foot putt for one of Tibbits’ four Friday birdies. He made a 25-foot putt for birdie on 14, and his birdies to open and close his round, on 1 and 18, were of the conventional variety — hit the green, make the putt.
Tibbits said Pebble Beach is the real deal. And the USGA knows what to do with it.
“U.S. Open setups aren’t meant to be easy,” he said.
Playing in the same tournament, on the same golf course, with the same players who seem to grace the leaderboard at every tournament, can only help him in his next major, he said.
“These guys are really freaking good. It’s impressive, the level these guys play at. It’s super cool to play alongside them.
“As much experience as you can possibly get is so valuable.”
Tibbits might have been the picture of the focused competitor in his two rounds at Pebble, but he didn’t wear blinders.
He and his pal and caddy, Keith Lobis, have a good relationship and talked about a lot of things and had fun, Tibbits said.
And they didn’t fail to notice, in places like the No. 17 fairway or the No. 7 green, with ocean waves crashing on the rock just off the shore, exactly where they stood.
Tibbits added: “We’d say, ‘Do you realize where we’re at right now? This is awesome.’ “