In some respects, they are best friends. Rob Oppenheim and Pebble Beach. 

At least from Rob's perspective.

A lot has happened since the relationship started nearly 20 years ago, in August of 1999, at the U.S. Amateur.

Rob. 39, was a wide-eyed 19-year-old, entering his sophomore year at Rollins College (Winter Park, Fla.), a member of the Div. 2 golf team.

"My brother Kenny and I got there like two kids, two Merrimack Valley kids, who had no idea what we were doing," said Rob of his younger brother, who caddied for him on their first Pebble Beach visit in 1999. "This was Pebble Beach. It was incredible. We were just walking around in awe. We were definitely out of our element."

Not quite.

Two things happened that week.

The Oppenheims, which included his parents, were introduced to the "new" CEO of Pebble Beach and Lawrence native Bill Perocchi, who had been on the job only a few weeks. Perocchi went out of his way to look out for the Oppenheims on their stay, making them feel at home, something Rob said, "I'll forever be grateful for."

And Rob, a no-name on the national golf circuit, played as if he was a member.

He amazingly finished 22nd in the two-round qualifying (top 64 qualify for match play). He won his first match (2-up) before losing on the last hole in his in the round of 16.

He left Pebble Beach a new golfer.

"It changed the way I viewed my game," said Oppenheim. "I realized I could play with the best amateurs in the country. And to do it at Pebble Beach ... It was definitely a confidence boost."

Oppenheim's career blossomed. Not only did he win back-to-back Rogers Golf championships (2000-01), he led Rollins College to a Div. 2 national championship in which he sank a 30-foot putt on the last hole (2002) and a Mass Amateur Golf Championship (2002). 

He turned professional thereafter and a long and arduous career had begun on the Canadian Tour, Cleveland Tour, Hooter's Winter Series, and Moonlight Tour, where he ranked among the best of those tours. He tried, unsuccessfully to qualify on the PGA Tour through Qualifying School, but found a home on the Nationwide Tour (the PGA's version of Triple-A baseball), now the Web.com Tour, in 2009.

He did two stints on the PGA Tour, 2016 and 2018, missing automatic qualification for the next year and he returned to the Web.com Tour.

His roller-coaster career has included him barely missing qualifying two other years in 2015 and 2017.

But the one constant, for much of his career, has been Pebble Beach. He has seemed to always play well on the Monterey Peninsula, having been out there more than a dozen times for tournaments since 1999, including the famed AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Invitational (three) the second week of February and the lower-profile TaylorMade Invitiational (eight) in November.

His relationship with Perocchi has helped, receiving a few sponsor's exemptions and invites to the November .

"Robbie's determination and perseverance are unmatched," said Perocchi, who attended Brooks School and UNH. "He has had so many ups and downs and never gives up. He is so even-keeled through all these up and downs.

"But most of all, what impresses me the most is that he is a gentleman and so respectful of everything and everything," said Perocchi, who owns a home in Rye Beach, N.H. "He's a real credit to his parents who raised him."

Rob, though, has earned his stripes on the Monterey Peninsula.

Of his three AT&T events, he has made the cut each time, and was among the leaders (Jordan Spieth won) on Day 3, before finishing 9-under par, tied for eighth and copping $216,000 in 2017.

Of the eight TaylorMade events (was Callaway), he was on the leaderboard the last round five times, including a second place finish last November.

"Why do I feel so comfortable at Pebble?" repeated Rob. "Two reasons. I think it goes back to 1999 when I did so well at the U.S. Amateur. "You play well a few times and then your confidence grows. The Perocchis, Bill and Nanci, have been great to my family. It’s a bond we've had since 199. It’s like they’ve become part of the family.”

This current visit was no gift from Perocchi. Oppenheim had to go through two stages of qualifying, one in which he was low-qualifier with an 8-under-par 64, and then a month later, he needed to outlast another golfer on the second hole of a playoff.

This trip to Pebble Beach is coming with a price. He is missing the Web.com Tour event, where he sits 49th on the money list (top 25 gain their PGA Tour card for next season). He has been playing well, going 42-under-par over his last five tournaments.

"I still have a lot of work to do on the Web.com Tour, so it's not easy missing a week or whatever," said Rob. "But this is the U.S. Open and Pebble Beach. Those opportunities don't come around often. This is where I belong this week."

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

***********BREAKOUT BOX

Pebble with Belchick the best

Rob Oppenheim has had some memorable trips to Pebble Beach, including the first as a 19-year-old in 1999. But the visit in February of 2017 stands out for a few reasons.

Not only did Oppenheim go to the Patriots Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons in Houston, seeing the Patriots overcome a 28-3 deficit late in the third quarter, but he played at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am four days later with Bill Belichick as his amateur partner.

Oppenheim had his best-ever finish in the main event -- tied for 8th, winning $216,000. 

“Playing with Bill Belichick was amazing," said Oppenheim. "He was a like a rock star. It was so much fun.

"People ask me if Bill Belichick and the Patriots rubbed off on me," said Oppenheim. "You know what, I think the positive feelings everyone had may have helped me. It kept me really loose, probably helping me stay focused on my game and staying aggressive.”

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