Caddies, players and Aaron Rodgers pinpoint the magic and friendships of AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Austin Johnson
Caddie Austin Johnson and brother, Dustin, share a laugh with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky during the 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

One of the greatest things about golf is how it brings together so many different people from various professions, countries and walks of life.

Perhaps the best example of this when it comes to the PGA Tour’s schedule is this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

For caddies, players and celebrities the old Crosby Clambake on the Monterey Peninsula provides a venue for conversation, competition and a lot of laughs.

For one caddie, Zach Guthrie, the event provided the perfect backdrop for the biggest moment of his life: proposing to his girlfriend, Kellie.

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At the time, Zach was looping for his brother Luke in 2016, and he was expecting Kellie to arrive Wednesday afternoon. When she finally made it, Zach had the stage set and a plan.

“I had it mapped that Wednesday night was when I was going to propose. I would get her out to the seventh green around sunset and I was going to bring her there under the guise of, ‘I’m doing coursework, for my yardage book,’” Zach said. “I told her, ‘it would be fun for you to be out there with me.’”

Luke and Zach’s good pal D.J. Piehowski, who now works with No Laying Up, helped with some of the planning details, including Piehowski setting up a GoPro on one of No. 7’s penalty markers.

“By the time the tournament started I thought no matter what kind of golf gets played, this week already is the best week ever,” Zach said.

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There would be another addition to the magical week though. Kellie spotted Justin Timberlake in the hospitality area and kicked into fangirl mode… A gear that Zach almost never sees from her.

Zach and Kellie Guthrie pose for a photo with Justin Timberlake after Zach proposed to Kellie during the 2016 Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“She’s like ‘oh my gosh, can I get a picture with you?’” Zach said.

“‘Wow, you just made my week,’ and then she’s like, ‘wait, no never mind, I’m a fiancee now, so you really didn’t make my week,’ because I was right there in the picture, too. And then she put up her hand with the ring.”

Then the all-time entertainer found the perfect one-liner.

“I’m just the cherry on top.”

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One of last year’s bigger AT&T lead-up stories was the social media exchange between the animated swinging HoSung Choi and Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers and Choi got their wish to be grouped together. Rodgers teamed with his usual partner, Jerry Kelly, and Choi with actor Chris O’Donnell.

Choi tweeted a video before tournament week that told Aaron Rodgers, he’ll see him at, “Pebble Beeechy.”

“We loved that,” Rodgers said last year, “so Danica (Patrick) decided to make some sweatshirts and the girls all wore them (Saturday) before it got all winter.”

Aaron Rodgers, Jerry Kelly, Ho-sung Choi and Chris O’Donnell pose for a photo on the 18th tee box during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

They gave Choi one and he ended up giving Jerry and Aaron his custom headcovers with his silhouette doing, what else, some animated body english.

Rogers, his caddie Eric Blofsky, Kelly, and Kelly’s caddie Eric Meller all met Choi on the first tee Thursday morning at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

The next night, they’d already invited him over to the house Rodgers rents with the crew and their wives to include him in what Heller calls their “Pebble Beach family.”

“We really wanted to make him feel welcome here, at the tournament and with our group,” Rodgers said.

Choi brought his kids, wife, manager and a translator. Choi’s kids sang Korean songs in the backyard with the whole group gathered by the fire pit.

So in return, Rodgers picked up a guitar and with the help of his usual squad played Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” for the Choi group.

Aaron Rodgers plays guitar for friends one night during the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“It was best thing we could come up with in return to the kids singing for us,” Meller’s wife, Meredith, laughed.

“And Aaron actually knew how to play it on guitar,” Meller chimed in. “It was great that we all came together through golf, and that night sharing music, food and drink, laughs and trying to learn about each other’s culture. It was one of my favorite nights ever at Pebble.”

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Meller and the other Americans there learned that anytime they would tap one of the Koreans’ glasses for a cheers, “whatever is in the glass has to be consumed immediately, as was apparently a Korean tradition,” he said.

Of course, that only added to the fun.

Another favorite AT&T memory for Meller was Rodgers throwing a pass on the 18th fairway at Pebble to a determined Jerry Kelly running a route.

“Jerry was so intent on catching it, he gripped so hard on it that the last knuckle on his left ring finger bent underneath. It was curved for like six months.”

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Adam Scott’s caddie, John Limanti, first looped in the AT&T in 2011. That year a Pro-Am participant named Steve John joined his group.

Limanti and John found an instant connection because John had just sold a couple car dealerships to a friend of Limanti’s.

What are the odds, right?

John went on to ace No. 15 at Spyglass that week.

The next year, John became the Tournament Director.

“He’s become a friend of mine and I could always call him and ask for advice,” Limanti said. “Probably one of the cooler relationships I’ve started at the AT&T.”

But last year started another amazing one for Limanti, as well. Scott partnered with Doug Mackenzie and they were grouped with surfer Kelly Slater.

Slater invited the two to his “Surf Ranch” in LeMoore, California, for his birthday the day after the AT&T. Scott is a committed surfer, so he was a kid in a candy store.

“It was one of the coolest days ever to be able to see his creation, the wave,” Limanti said.

Limanti is more of a boogie-board guy than a surfer, but when in Rome.

“I was planning on spectating all day, then Kelly said, ‘hey you got to throw on a wetsuit, you’re getting in the water.’ So I grabbed a board and it was unbelievable. Then you see Kelly get on the wave, to see the greatest ever firsthand (surf) is something you don’t really get to do.”

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A.J. Montecinos caddied for former boss Kevin Streelman in the 2016 AT&T. That year and each since, Larry Fitzergerald’s been Streelman’s Pro-Am partner. At the time, Fitzgerald had never played Pebble Beach. So he spent much of late Friday afternoon, after their second round at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, on the range getting some last-minute swing preparation for his monumental intro to Pebble the next morning.

Montecinos took notice to Fitzgerald’s restlessness.

“I was just trying to help him with his swing, he’s such a classy guy and he’s always trying to help others and I could tell he was nervous and he was struggling a little bit,” Montecinos said. “So, I was just trying to put his mind at ease and help him try to enjoy the day.”

A.J. Montecinos
Caddie A.J. Montecinos helps all-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald with his swing before Fitzgerald’s introduction to Pebble Beach the next day back in 2016. Photo: Garrett Johnston

The next year, in 2017, Fitzgerald finished his final round at Pebble on Sunday but the golf fanatic wasn’t satisfied.

So he played 18 more.

Why you might ask?

“He was talking smack to his caddie Mike Zabbo and he’s like, ‘let’s go play, I’ll play you guys right now, I’ll take you (and A.J.) both on,’” Montecinos recalls.

Zabbo says Montecinos had been jawing with Fitzgerald the whole week, too, so they just needed to find a place to let their clubs finally do the talking.

Fitzgerald talked Streelman into going with them to Spyglass Hill. And Streelman looped for Montecinos in a cart. Fitzgerald gladly paid the greens fees.

Fitzgerald had the other three ducking for cover when he hit a ball washer with his tee shot on the 11th — a moment they will never let the NFL star forget.

“Every year at the AT&T Streels pulls out the video,” Zabbo said.

Though he was about a 13-handicap compared to the single-digit handicaps of the two caddies, Fitzgerald’s competitiveness kicked in.

“Larry just loves to play,” Montecinos said. “We just had the time of our lives, it was an amazing experience I won’t forget.”

Montecinos beat Fitzgerald and had the wide receiver sign the money he lost as a memento.

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Ray Farnell, who looped for Ricky Barnes during four AT&Ts when they were grouped with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, has two simple takeaways about each star.

“Brady is totally dialed in out there, but Bill is coachable,” Farnell said.

Did he just say that likely the greatest NFL coach of all time is coachable?

Well, at least when it comes to golf.

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“He would ask us, ‘what am I hitting here, where do I hit it?’ He was really cool.”

PGA Tour veteran caddie Steve Hulka also found those in his groupings cool, especially Hank Ketcham, the creator of Dennis the Menace.

“After the week was over, Hank hands me this envelope and he drew a picture of Dennis the Menace on it and he wrote, ‘For David’s daddy, no I mean caddie.’ And in there was a $100 bill. And to this day I still have this spur of the moment sketch that he did for me.”

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is always a one of a kind week for both players and caddies. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Caddie Austin Johnson has had the good fortune of getting Pro-Am players Jake Owen and Wayne Gretzky in his group recently. Gretzky’s daughter, of course, is engaged to Dustin Johnson.

Though he says Gretzky’s competitiveness has worn off in that event, Owen’s is as sharp as any.

“He’s fiery and a golf nut, and he takes it really seriously,” Johnson said. “He asks Dustin and Jordan all kinds of questions during their rounds and he’s always trying to get better.”

So much so that he even hit the range at Pebble in 2016 immediately after winning a bet against partner Jordan Spieth at Cypress Point on Tuesday.

Last week’s winning looper Paul Tesori (2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open) actually played in the AT&T when he was on Tour in 1997 and 1999. In ’97 he paired with former major league pitcher Tom Candiotti.

Tesori’s favorite memory from that experience came on Pebble Beach’s 18th.

“We went and threw pitches to the right of 18 by the condos, I had a big old mitt,” Tesori said. “He’s throwing pitches and I said he could never get one by me. So he threw one of those monster knuckle balls at me and I dove out of the way about eight feet in front of me as the ball caromed off the hubcap of a Porsche and we all went running like children. Hopefully nobody saw us.”

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Another player who enjoyed the people he’s met through the AT&T is Olin Browne. Browne presently balances playing on the PGA Tour Champions and caddying for his son on mini-tours.

Browne putted on the practice green his very first AT&T in 1982 and shared it with only one other person. When his buddy came over from the pro shop and asked who he was playing with that week, Browne answered by singing the first couple bars of “Moon River.”

This, of course, meant singer Andy Williams.

“The next day the first round of the tournament, I see Andy Williams across the green and I wanted to introduce myself,” Browne said. “I said, ‘Mr. Williams, I wanted to say hi. My name is Olin Browne and I’m your professional this week.’

“And looked at me and he sang ‘Moon River’ and it turns out that the only other person on that putting green was a buddy of his who he stays with during the tournament and he overheard our conversation.”

The last year Browne played at Kapalua in 2006, he convinced his 13-year-old daughter to attend an Eagles performance there. To pops’ surprise she ended up liking what she heard and they stayed longer than even he had hoped.

“I ran into (the late Eagles frontman) Glenn Frey at Pebble the next month and I told him what happened and he said, ‘you know that’s such a cool story.’

“Little things like that you would not otherwise get the opportunity to experience, that’s what makes a tournament like the AT&T so extraordinary,” Browne said.

For former player Joe Ogilvie, the AT&T introduced him to two of his now closest friends  in Barry Baker and Bill Rhodes.

“At the time, you don’t really know what they mean to you, but as you go on through life and you exit the golf stage, you realize while that part of your life is over, the friendships you’ve built through the game and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am are enduring,” Ogilvie said.

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