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Rob Oppenheim had quite the successful week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tourney.

By Gary Larrabee

He knew he was going to make the biggest paycheck of his professional career, but that was not uppermost in his mind as Salem-born Rob Oppenheim faced his third shot on the 72nd and final hole of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Sunday afternoon.

Oppenheim, just turned 37, needed to make a par 5 to finish in the top 10 for the week and not only win $216,000 (instead of approximately $180,000 if he made bogey 6), but qualify automatically for this weekend’s Genesis Open at Riviera outside Los Angeles. But the challenge to make par was daunting

Oppenheim, who grew up in Andover, where his parents still live, found his third shot on the famous, oceanside five-par under a large tree, pin-high right, on dirt, with a large tree root one inch in front of his ball. He faced a ridiculously difficult pitch shot over a sidehill bunker, to a tight-side flagstick.

“It looked like I was going to make a mess on my last hole when it had been such a wonderful week,” Oppenheim told North Shore Golf. “Everything had gone so great, from being in Houston to watch the Patriots win, to playing the first three rounds with my amateur partner, Bill Perocchi, Bill Belichick and Ricky Barnes.

“But then I three-putted twice the back nine (Nos. 14, 15) to drop to nine under and now this on 18. I tried to stay positive but I knew what could happen if I botched this chip shot. It could fly over the green and land in the Pacific Ocean or it could hit that root, pop straight up in the air and leave me with the same hard shot again. I couldn’t believe what I might do to end the week. Yes, I knew what was at stake.”

With Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo commentating and the CBS-TV cameras rolling, Oppenheim pulled off one of the great shots of his golfing life. “The ball nicked the root, got over the bunker and rolled onto the green – more than I ever could have hoped for – and finished about eight, ten feet beyond the cup,” Oppenheim said.

Oppenheim stroked the putt straight into the hole for par, a level 72, a 9-under 278 and a $216,00 paycheck, his most rewarding day financially as a professional. And… a berth in the Genesis Open at Riviera, where the purse is $7 million.

“I just wanted to get the ball on the green, two-putt, settle for eight under and hope that was good enough. I surprised myself, I must admit. I couldn’t believe I’d pulled it off, getting up and down from that horrible spot.”

That proved to be a $43,000 par putt after he’d driven in the right-side fairway bunker lip, played a safety pitch and struck his 230-yard, 3-hybrid third shot where he wished not to go.

“I can’t remember ever facing an up-and-down situation like that with so much at stake,” Oppenheim conceded. “I’d played three real solid rounds in the 60s (69 at Monterey, 69 at Spyglass, 68 at Pebble Beach and kept it together quite well coming down the 72nd hole, even with the three-putts. Maybe it was just going to work out the last hole no matter how I played. Because it did.”

The weekend was double sweet because his father Jim, the former Kernwood member now playing out of Andover Country Club, was on hand, as was Rob’s wife Lacey.

Rob was not all that surprised he played well. “I’ve played well here before (qualifying for 1999 U.S. Amateur and winning two matches) and it is my favorite course anywhere,” he said. “I feel at ease here. I’ve have played well of late.”

Oppenheim will find a way to thank his playing partner, Pebble Beach CEO Perocchi, who gave his old buddy from the Merrimack Valley a sponsor’s exemption into the AT&T.  Rob was otherwise stuck playing the Web.com Tour all year, but now he has a chance to play several PGA Tour events, based how the next few weeks go. A reshuffling of player standing in late March could thrust Oppenheim into a permanent eligibility status where the Michelsons, Johnsons and McIlroys play regularly.

“Pebble Beach gives me a great chance,” Oppenheim said. “Hope I can take advantage of it.”

He is finding out more as he plays Riviera this week. Yesterday, in the first round, Oppenheim shot a 4-over 75, leaving him tied for 129th.

 

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