As everyone from Pebble Beach to Augusta knows, the AT&T
National Pro-Am was canceled after 36 holes because one hole--the
16th at Spyglass Hill--was deemed unplayable. But should a final
18 have been played? SI's Walter Bingham (Play) takes issue with
David Eger (No Way), the Tour's vice president of competitions
who made the decision to cancel the event.
Not only was the decision inane, but it was also shortsighted
because it focused attention on some Tour problem areas.
Image. Compared with other pro sports, the Tour is stodgy, a
place for privileged and pampered white men whose idea of a
world crisis is not enough courtesy cars and too many spike
marks. Choosing not to play on a beautiful day simply because
one of 54 holes was considered unplayable gives the impression
that the players are wimps and that the game itself is so
precious, so uptight, that it can't be conducted unless it
conforms to a set of rules that are often absurd. Knelt on a
towel to protect your slacks, did you, Craig Stadler? That's two
strokes. You were practice putting in the fairway during a rain
delay, Bob Murphy? Two strokes. As Peter Kostis of CBS said,
"Sometimes the Rules of Golf have to give way to the rules of
Public relations. While the Tour says it wants to broaden its
fan base, it left stranded thousands of spectators who had paid
at least $25 to watch golf, more if they opted for the full
weekend. What the fans got in return was nothing, no refunds, no
thank-yous. No business treats its customers that way. Don't bet
on everyone coming back next year.
Imagination. The Tour shows none. Many people had inventive
suggestions for how play might have continued at Pebble Beach.
On television Ken Venturi, caught in a vise between speaking his
mind and not ruffling any feathers, asked Eger if he had
considered improvising, such as allowing pros to use a tee in
the 16th fairway so balls could rest at grass level. Eger
indicated that such a move would not be fair to those who had
played the hole on Thursday and Friday. Nick Faldo suggested
eliminating all scores on the 16th, even though he had birdied
it earlier in the week. Groundskeepers with squeegees could have
been posted at the "unplayable" hole so when drives landed, the
water around the balls could have been reduced sufficiently to
allow a shot. Johnny Miller and Paul Azinger led the parade of
players who argued that in the tradition of the Crosby, you hit
the ball and move on.
Finally, this suggestion. Tell the players on Sunday morning
that the official tournament had been canceled, but that with
all those fans present, a third and final round would proceed on
an unofficial basis. Any prize money distributed would be
unofficial, but at least the fans would get to see golf.
One might argue that a rainout isn't likely to happen again,
since this was the first time in the long, storm-tossed history
of Bing's tournament that it had to be canceled. But as
old-timers recalled stories of past Crosbys played in rain,
sleet and snow, with winds bending flagsticks nearly parallel to
the green, it seemed to signal that perhaps the Tour has
forgotten that golf began on the rainy, windswept highlands of
Scotland, not the manicured fairways of Ponte Vedra, Fla., and
when conditions are miserable, the foremost rule of golf should
be "Play on, laddie."
You can't play by just some of the rules. You have to play by
all of them, and the rules state that if you have casual water
through the green, you must take complete relief.
I knew the decision would produce second-guessing because some
people thought the 16th was playable. But if you wanted to take
casual-water relief, you could only drop the ball in a position
that would put you at a disadvantage to those who had played the
hole on Thursday and Friday. You cannot write a local rule that
would disregard a rule of golf. That's what some people don't
We considered a lot of things, but nothing outside the Rules of
Golf that would compromise the competition. All the suggestions
that were made--putting the ball on a tee, eliminating those
holes that were unplayable, eliminating the Spyglass scores
altogether and playing through the unplayable
conditions--compromised the competition.
I know the rule causes problems occasionally, but if you
disregard one rule, how can you enforce or administer the
others? That might sound extreme, but it's not. The rules need
to be followed to the letter.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: COURTESY OF THE PEBBLE BEACH CO. Eger's map of 16 at Spyglass shows the drop areas (X) from casual water (red). [Diagram of 16th hole at Spyglass Hill]