PEBBLE BEACH, Calif., – In his second go around at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wants to make the cut.
It’s not far-fetched after Harbaugh and his tour partner Jason Day shot a 9-under-61 on the opening day of the tournament. The first-year pair stands tied for third place with seven other teams, including Wayne Gretzky’s.
At Thursday’s opening round at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Harbaugh did his part in helping his team post low numbers. With the help of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as his caddie, Harbaugh found his way on the front-nine before heating up on the back-nine to post a 40 on the closing nine holes.
The 49ers coach hadn’t played a round of golf in a year and still managed to sink a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 11 and back-to-back par saves on 13 and 14.
Day, the No. 45 ranked player in the world shot a 68 to post 2-under, four shots off Hunter Mahan’s first-round lead.
It was a pretty impressive performance considering Harbaugh’s full schedule with the 49ers. Harbaugh said his 10 swings on the practice range was the only time spent swinging a golf club since his participation in last year’s Pro-Am. The early swings, however, calloused Harbaugh’s hands immediately. No worry, the 49ers coach taped up his fingers the same way
Harbaugh also received some help from his partner in last year’s tournament.
“Matt Bettencourt gave me a driver and hit that pretty straight, that was good,” Harbaugh said with a grin after his round with Day, Bettencourt and San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain concluded. “I thought it was respectable.”
It helped having a golf enthusiast like Fangio on the bag.
“Vic was good,” said Harbaugh, who wore a red sweater with khaki pants and a Watonsville Fire Dept. hat, a gift from a tournament chauffeur who drove the 49ers coach to the course. “Vic told me to stay coaching and had a lot of good reads on the green.”
Harbaugh was vocal throughout the round. Whenever someone hit a nice shot he was boisterous in applauding his playing partners.
“I had a lot of fun,” the 49ers coach said. “The pros, Matt Bettencourt and Jason Day couldn’t be nicer and Matt Cain is just a heck of a guy. It made it special.”
Another unique aspect of the outing was Harbaugh’s interaction with the team’s Faithful supporters. The 49ers coach went out of his way to sign autographs throughout the round and conversed with fans in the galleries.
Asked about his interactions with the fans after his round, Harbaugh said, “It makes you feel good.”
In between shots, he also had time to reflect on his team’s Super Bowl run and the effort it took to reach New Orleans last week.
Harbaugh made it clear to reporters after the round how much he appreciated his 2012 team.
“As a coach,” he began, “I look at the game and the effort of our players and it was pretty plus, plus, plus. You’re down 22 points and that could go the other way and most of the time it does. The way our players fought and competed and nearly came all the way back, they’ll be regret that we lost. It certainly hurts, but you can live with regret. Becoming dispirited and not competing, you can’t live with that and that’s never been the case with our team. It’s a new day, we’ll plow forward.”
With that vigor in mind, Harbaugh had energy in every stop on the golf course. His body language suggested a competitor looking for the next challenge. The 49ers coach has it – he wants to make the cut at the Pro-Am.
“Yeah, I want to make the cut this year,” Harbaugh said. “Keep playing good and play good tomorrow and Jason, a lot of it depends on him. It’s good that we’re paired with one of the best players in the world – that really helps.”
Harbaugh won’t have Fangio on the bag for day two, but said it’ll be one of his brother-in-laws, John or Joe, getting the nod to carry his “30-year-old” clubs.
For the next two days, the 49ers coach might spend time reflecting on the football marathon he just lived through, but he’ll look to enjoy himself in a familiar environment, a competitive one.
“It’s enjoyable,” said Harbaugh, summing up his Thursday experience. “Especially getting to play with Matt Bettencourt and Matt Cain again and Jason is a super guy which makes it real special. And then just the people out here couldn’t be nicer, so it’s a very classy event.”
Harbaugh’s 40 on the back-nine was quite impressive considering, “These are my only four rounds of the year,” he told reporters. The 49ers coach played the par 3s, 1-under, something proudly noted by his caddie, Fangio.
Harbaugh said he developed his golf swing during his 15 seasons as a former NFL quarterback. It didn’t happen during his youth.
“No, we did not grow up in the country club environment,” he said with a laugh.
With some of the putts the 49ers coach was able to convert and the consistent force he was able to generate off the tee box, Harbaugh proved to be a natural on the course.
But can he capitalize on the 40 strokes on the back-nine into Friday’s round?
“I don’t know,” Harbaugh said. “I’m just kind of hitting and hoping right now. But it was turning out pretty good today.”
As long as things remain competitive, the 49ers coach should be just fine.