Major championships simply do not do certain things. They don't end on Mondays--not often, anyway, and not without an 18-hole playoff. Lift, clean and place is verboten. Rounds are not restarted. And they are never played in a month that ends in arch.
The Players Championship, dying to become golf's fifth major, is guilty on all counts. The Players really ought to be a major. It boasts a better field than the traditional majors; has a venue that, love it or hate it, is as spectacular and challenging as any; and enjoys a fan-friendly atmosphere all its own. All the Players needs, like a fine wine or Jay Haas, is a little aging. That and a new date. In May.
"We're looking very hard at possibly moving it to May," Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said last week. "We may or we may not." No pun intended, presumably.
Last week's rain-delayed debacle is only the latest reason why the Players should be moved. When Fred Funk finally prevailed on Monday evening, the win was, as much as anything, a moral victory for the Tour, which avoided having to continue into Tuesday, a move the policy board had hurried to approve on Friday. Still, thanks to repeated rain delays, Players Championship week seemed longer than a James Michener novel. It wasn't until late Sunday morning that the second round was completed.
Three of the last six Players Championships have finished on Monday. Built in 1982 on glorified swampland, the Stadium course at the TPC at Sawgrass doesn't drain well, which is why it was deemed unfit for play after a mere 0.3 of an inch of rain had fallen on Friday afternoon. The second round had to be restarted the next morning--wiping out Skip Kendall's par-eagle and Joe Ogilvie's birdie-birdie starts, among others--so the Tour could institute lift-clean-and-place rules, without which, most players agreed, the squishy fairways would not have been playable.
In May the Players Championship would no longer be overshadowed by March Madness and the specter of the fast-approaching Masters. In addition, a May Players would give golf a showcase event every month from April through the September Ryder or Presidents Cup. The weather in Jacksonville would be warmer and--people who live there swear--considerably drier. "It would make a lot of sense," says two-time Players champion Davis Love III. "The course would be browner and faster and probably play more the way Pete Dye designed it to play." He laughed, adding, "And that might not be a good thing for us." Better weather and a tougher, truer course? Sign us up.
The negatives of a switch? Egos and the quality of the field might get bruised at two other May Tour stops, the Byron Nelson Classic and the Memorial, and the Florida swing might suffer as well. Some Europeans might stay home as their tour hits full stride.
In the end, those seem like minor trade-offs in exchange for speeding this event's acceptance as a major. As for what we think of the Players Championship in March, well, we'll have to take the Fifth.
The 48-year-old Funk fought through a brutal wind to become the oldest winner of the Players Championship.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG
After three days and more than 13 hours of on-and-off rain delays, Monday morning finally brought a sky full of sun--along with winds gusting to 35 mph, which made the Stadium course at the TPC at Sawgrass play even tougher than usual. The Monday finish kept many from attending, but not one farsighted man.