It ended as the week that never was. That would normally be an absurd thing to say about a tournament in which Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson were within two strokes of the lead going into a final round they would play over a trio of Monterey Peninsula courses at their flagstick-bending nastiest. But the absurd fact was, because heavy rains made it impossible to take a legal drop on one hole, the 1996 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am might as well have never happened.
Obviously, judging by all the mud-stained trousers, something happened. But all that was produced was the most unsatisfactory finish since your Mr. Fix-it uncle tried to apply a coat of spray paint to the antique rolltop desk. When the PGA Tour and the tournament committee decided on Sunday that the 16th hole at Spyglass Hill simply could not be played under a strict interpretation of the Rules of Golf, the tournament that gave us the term Crosby weather to define the golfer's ultimate battle against the elements, was regrettably canceled after 36 holes—without a winner—due to wet conditions.
The sodden ending represented the first such cancellation in the tournament's 50 years at Pebble Beach and the first time a Tour event could not be completed since the Colonial National Invitation was washed out in 1949. Officials said the event would not be replayed this year. All 180 of the professionals in the field, from Jeff Maggert, who scored an eight-under-par 136, to John Flannery, who had an 18-over-par 162, received $5,000 in unofficial money. Their amateur partners were all sent home without a chance to make the cut.
Inasmuch as no one wanted such a miserable result, it seemed eminently avoidable. The first two rounds—during which players were allowed to lift, clean and place their ball due to muddy conditions from a week's worth of rain—went off without a hitch. By Friday night the event was right on schedule with 24 players within three shots of Maggert's lead, one of whom, Mickelson, was going for his third consecutive victory. Coming off a dramatic Phoenix Open the previous week, the weekend promised to be another classic.
Instead, things quickly went from best case to worst. Heavy overnight rains soaked the three tournament courses—Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills—causing officials to suspend play on Saturday without a shot being fired. Suddenly, with the weather forecast dire and the courses too saturated to drain, the tournament was in jeopardy. Events in which one or even two courses are used can be declared official after 36 holes, but the three-course rotation in the AT&T meant that under the rules all of the players had to play each of the 54 holes for the tournament and its purse to count. Still, officials seemed confident that they could get in 18 more holes, even if play had to be extended into Monday. Although the greens, in the words of Mike Springer, "putted like waffle irons," both Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills remained playable, even after the weekend drenching. So was most of Spyglass Hill, except for a stretch along the 16th hole that would ultimately sink the tournament. The 468-yard par-4, named Black Dog, became so saturated along its left side that, according to officials, it became impossible to play under the rules.
That's because there is much more to the rule governing relief from casual water than simply finding dry land. Whereas most amateurs simply kick their ball from a soaked area to the most convenient place that's dry and safe, rule 25-1 states that where casual water exists, a player who elects to exercise his right to move his ball must take full and complete relief at the nearest point not closer to the hole. The problem was, on the left side of the 16th fairway, there was no such point. The only nearby dry ground was in the left rough, but from there a shot would be obstructed by trees. Under the rule, a shot that is interfered with by tree branches is not considered full and complete relief. The bottom line: Short of playing from casual water, as much as an inch deep on the fairway, a player who drove along the left side of 16 and into casual water had no way of playing without cheating. It was the chief reason play was called on Saturday.
Some veterans of the Pro-Am, who pride themselves on being golf survivalists, felt the rules should have been bent and that the show should have gone on. Ken Venturi, who first played in the Crosby in 1951, took umbrage with the decision to suspend play on Saturday, contending that "you can find a place to hit it." He recounted how Cary Middlecoff had once walked off Cypress Point because 45-mph winds kept blowing his ball off the tee. The Pebble Beach pro, Peter Hay, represented the spirit of the tournament when he ordered Middlecoff back on the course with this challenge: "Show me in the rule book where it says you have to tee up the ball."
That spirit hasn't died. "We should be out there slopping around," said Johnny Miller, a three-time winner. "Who cares if we shoot high? This is an entertainment tournament." Added defending champion Peter Jacobsen, "We just need to tee it up."
When Sunday morning came, it looked as if a memorable round might be in the offing. Although more rain had fallen during the night, winds in excess of 30 mph had cleared the sky. Faldo took a mental reading and declared that it would be a tougher day than the final round of the 1992 U.S. Open, when the average score at Pebble Beach was 77 and change. The prospect of the pros being buffeted hither and yon was enough to raise hopes that this was a tournament, 54 holes or not, that could be saved. Watson was particularly primed. "I'm very eager," he said. "I'm looking forward to winning. I just hope they don't cancel the golf tournament."
But that's what officials did. An army of blowers and squeegees had the area along the 16th improving on Sunday when a heavy squall undid all the work. Faced with the hopeless task of saving the day, and a Monday forecast for more rain (it turned out to be a beautiful day), officials from the tournament and the PGA Tour, despite pressure from television, decided to cancel the entire event. "We couldn't play under the casual water rule strictly," said David Eger, the Tour's vice president of competition. "The Tour has stayed firm about playing under the Rules of Golf."