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 short sighted 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 life."
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 I 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."