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Blown Away
Alan Shipnuck
February 09, 1998
But the finish at Pebble Beach will come again another day, and soon
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February 09, 1998

Blown Away

But the finish at Pebble Beach will come again another day, and soon

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One thing about Crosby weather, there's lots of it," Bing Crosby once said of the perennially bad climate at his Clambake. Bing died 21 years ago, and his tournament now carries the clunky title AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but nothing much has changed. For the second time in three years the weather was the only winner.

Though most of the first three days of the event featured chamber of commerce blue skies, the Pro-Am was an exercise in crisis management after a wicked storm blew through the area early Thursday morning and another squall followed on Friday night. Only 36 holes were squeezed into the first three days, and play was suspended early on Sunday when it started raining sideways. Ignoring a storm and flood warning from the Monterey County chapter of the American Red Cross, the PGA Tour called for a restart on Monday morning, with predictable results. The unrelenting rain and saturated courses put the kibosh on that, and just when it looked like the Pro-Am was going to get washed out, again, the Tour came up with an inspired solution: The third and final round will be played on March 2, the day after the Nissan Open in Los Angeles and the West Coast swing come to an end. While some of the leaders at Pebble played as many as seven holes on Sunday before the rain came, those results will be stricken from the record, and the round will begin anew. "It's good for me," Tom Watson said on Monday. "I'll be back to 10 under par and tied for the lead." (On Sunday, Watson three-putted on his second hole at Poppy Hills to fall two strokes behind Tim Herron, who had birdied his second hole at Spyglass Hill.) Nipping at their heels on March 2 will be Tom Lehman and Phil Mickelson at nine under and Paul Azinger, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III at eight under—assuming all of them show.

"I'm sure there will be no-shows," says Watson. "But whatever date you pick there will be conflicts." As of Monday morning only eight of the top 21 players at the Pro-Am had committed to play in the Nissan, which after decades at revered Riviera Country Club is moving to an untested track in Valencia. The L.A. event is often skipped anyway because it falls in the week before the kickoff of the Tour's Florida swing at Doral. Expect a rush of players to commit to L.A. and its $2.1 million purse and then catch a Sunday-night charter flight to Monterey provided by the Pro-Am. After all, Pebble Beach upped its prize money by $600,000 this year, to $2.5 million, a purse exceeded only by the four majors, the Players Championship and the Tour Championship.

There was a particular sense of urgency to get in this Pro-Am because of the debacle in 1996, when one unplayable fairway at Spyglass Hill forced the cancellation of the tournament after 36 holes, the first washout of a Tour event since 1949. That judgment call in '96 was wildly unpopular, and the decision not to attempt to brave the elements this year was also jeered by many.

"This is a golf tournament, so let's play golf," Jack Lemmon said while relaxing in a hospitality tent off Pebble's 1st fairway after rain had stopped play on Sunday. Clustered around Lemmon's table was a breathing history of the Pro-Am, including his partner Peter Jacobsen, Clint Eastwood, Huey Lewis and Tommy Smothers. "If there's a puddle on the green, then pull out an eight-iron and chip over it!" Lemmon said. "If it's blowing 100 miles per hour, then lean into it! These golfers are so soft. I tell ya, Clint was more pissed off than I was. He called 'em a bunch of p———."

Added Jacobsen, "When is the weather not horrible around here?" Indeed, the very first Bing Crosby Professional-Amateur, in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe Country Club in San Diego, was hit by such a deluge that an on-course bridge was washed away. After the tournament moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1947, things got worse. In Crosby lore 1952 is known as the Year of the Big Blow, which refers to 45-mph gales that forced the cancellation of the final round. In 1962 the finish of the tournament was delayed a day by snow, and on three occasions since, foul weather has shortened the Pro-Am to 54 holes.

This year's tournament was all wet before it even started, thanks to a tempest that hit Wednesday at midnight and continued unabated until midmorning, felling five trees and dumping 2½ inches of rain. After a morning of furious squeegeeing on Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills, a restart was called at high noon, four hours after the tournament was supposed to get under way. This gave the first few groups almost six hours of daylight, and even with the glacial pace of the amateurs they could have squeezed in 18 holes. Still, most of the 336-player field would not have been able to finish their rounds, and that was the rub. Getting a couple hundred players back onto the courses on Friday morning to complete their initial 18 holes and then moving them to different courses to start the second round would have been a logistical horror. "You would have had two-hour traffic jams," R.J. Harper, the Pebble Beach Company's director of golf, said of the area's byzantine roadways. "There would have been pros missing their tee times and getting DQ'd, and on top of all that there wouldn't have been enough daylight to finish the second round, so it would have meant doing it all over again the next day."

Taking all this into account, the Tour decided to cut its losses and play nine holes on Thursday and nine on Friday. "It's weird. I feel like a high school dropout," Lehman said on Thursday after tying for the "lead" with a 32 on the front nine at Pebble Beach.

Lehman was bummed about having to call it a day while he was on a roll and the wind was at his back for the long and treacherous 10th hole. The complaints turned shrill on Friday, when the weather was perfect, but the Tour didn't budge on its decision to play only nine more holes. "Hell, I like to play when the sun is shining," Fulton Allem said. "It's like everybody is expecting us to play in the rain. God forbid we play in the good weather."

It should be pointed out that while the sun was out, the courses still looked like the grounds at Woodstock. "Sloppy," said Tiger Woods, whose play was just that, leaving him at four over when the tournament was suspended on Monday.

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