PEBBLE BEACH - Anyone still questioning Jim Harbaugh's commitment to Alex Smith for the upcoming season ought to consider this: Smith will serve as Harbaugh's caddie Thursday during the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.
Talks have not yet begun on a new contract for Smith, who is one of the 49ers' six starters from 2011 scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month. But both men left no doubt that Smith would be back for the 2012 season. "Obviously Alex is as high a priority as anyone on our team," Harbaugh said after stepping off the 18th green at Pebble Beach.
Their recent actions may speak even louder than Harbaugh's words. He and Smith almost have become a father-son duo, first carpooling from the South Bay to Pebble Beach on Tuesday and then pairing during a five-hole shootout with members of the San Francisco Giants organization. The 49ers' duo of Dwight Clark and Brent Jones won the tournament - as well as $30,000 to various charities - when Clark hit a three-foot putt on the 18th hole.
"It's like The Catch," someone shouted from the crowd as Clark lined up for the shot.
"I knew what I was doing then," Clark quipped before sinking the putt dead center.
Smith, meanwhile, plays golf like he handles quarterback - with few turnovers. He and Giants pitcher Matt Cain were the biggest drivers of the group, the difference being that Smith's tee shots usually ended up safely between the fringes.
Smith's best and biggest shot may have been his drive on 18. Harbaugh took over in the middle of the fairway but his shot ricocheted off the side of a building, the ball landing behind a cypress that towers over the 18th green. No matter. Smith pooch-punted his wedge shot over the tree and onto the green. "I just told him there's a lot more air than there is tree," Harbaugh said.
With recent talk in NFL circles centered on where 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning might end up should the Colts release him, Smith's and Harbaugh's recent behavior suggested that it won't be San Francisco. On Saturday Smith was in Indianapolis to accept the "Coach of the Year" award on Harbaugh's behalf.
"I didn't feel comfortable going up and giving a deep bow, you know, for what our players accomplished," said Harbaugh when asked why he didn't attend. "... I thought that was for the players."
On Thursday, the two will reverse roles with Smith giving advice as Harbaugh takes to the links again in the pro am tournament. Harbaugh and Cain will be in the group with professionals Ryan Moore and Matt Bettencourt and will tee off at 8:55 a.m. at the Spyglass Hill course.
The tournament will include fellow quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo, and Romo will be paired with Tiger Woods. Smith was invited to play in the tournament but had a prior engagement this weekend and could only take part on Thursday when he'll be in charge of managing Harbaugh.
"Definitely got some competitive juices flowing," the 49ers coach said. "The biggest thing is that I'd like to finish ahead of Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and Herm Edwards."
-- Matt Barrows