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What A Payne
Alan Shipnuck
February 15, 1999
For the third time in the last four years, weather short-circuited the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and only one player, Payne Stewart, had no cause to complain
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February 15, 1999

What A Payne

For the third time in the last four years, weather short-circuited the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and only one player, Payne Stewart, had no cause to complain

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Who says there's no longer any Sunday drama at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am? Sure, Crosby weather washed out the final round for the third time in the past four years, but that only meant that this year's most compelling story lines moved from the golf course to the hospitality tents.

During the 4�-hour rain delay that preceded the inevitable cancellation of the fourth round, players and caddies held a catered vigil in a large, drafty tent adjacent to the driving range at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Long before the 54-hole leader, Payne Stewart, was declared the winner and everybody was sent home, a series of gripping subplots were played out far from the probing TV cameras. To wit, would Peter Jacobsen get to watch the Knicks game? Would Frank Lickliter, the upstart who was a shot behind Stewart, run out of cigarettes? Would poor Arvin Ginn, the PGA Tour's embattled tournament director, get pelted by irate players armed with broccoli tops from the buffet table? It was the most exciting finish at the Pro-Am since 1996, when the entire tournament was declared null and void because of a puddle in the fairway of Spyglass Hill's 16th hole.

"I'm going to take this and run," Stewart said when it was all over. Not liking how that sounded, he quickly corrected himself. "It's not a tainted victory by any means," he said. "It's not." But then in the next breath Stewart, who hadn't won since '95, admitted, "I still have to prove to myself that I can win a 72-hole tournament. That is still a void that I have to fill this year."

Stewart's conflicted feelings were perfectly suited to such a schizophrenic tournament. The first two rounds of the Pro-Am were played in perfect golf weather, a touch overcast but with only a trivial breeze. Last Saturday was, quite simply, one of the most brutal days in the long, cold history of the tournament. Temperatures plummeted into the 40s, the wind blew at a steady 25 mph and gusted upwards of 50, and a series of squalls flooded the three courses. "It was old Crosby weather," said Clint Eastwood, a tournament regular since the mid-'60s, "not this El Ni�o stuff."

Spyglass and Poppy Hills are carved into the dense Del Monte Forest, which afforded some protection from the elements, but Pebble Beach and its oceanfront holes took the brunt of the tempest. Over the first two days of the tournament the average score at Pebble was an accommodating 72.25, with the other courses playing more than a shot tougher. On Saturday, Pebble played to a mind-blowing average of 79.19 (versus 75.53 for Spy and 75.25 at Poppy). The 60 pros at Pebble combined to make 340 bogeys (against only 96 birdies), 71 doubles and 16 of the dreaded "others." Lickliter, who played his third round at Spyglass, described his strategy as "just trying to keep the ball on the planet." He added, "I can't imagine how hard it played at Pebble today. I was lucky in the draw."

It wasn't luck, Frank—the pairings are always set up to ensure that most of the field's marquee players are on Pebble for Saturday's network telecast, which only made last week's carnage more surreal. Phil Mickelson, the defending champ, made two double bogeys and a triple on his way to a wild 75, while David Duval had a pair of doubles of his own and shot 76, dropping from third place early in his round to 15th at day's end. The 7th hole, the 107-yard, downhill par-3, played into the teeth of the gale, and Mickelson and Duval were forced to use a six-iron and a seven-iron, respectively. Following the round, sporting a stocking cap pulled down below his eyebrows and the fleece mittens he had worn on the course between shots, Duval said, "You could've played well and still shot 80 out there. You simply can't control the ball on some of these holes. If the conditions are the same, I don't think I want to play tomorrow."

When it rained throughout the night, it seemed certain that Duval would get his wish, but beginning at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning the players were sent back out, steady drizzle be damned. At 9:30, 20 minutes before the leaders were to tee off and just after Duval had eagled the par-4 1st hole, the round was suspended because standing water had made the greens unplayable. Thus began the rain-delay waiting game, which is becoming as much of a ritual as Jack Lemmon's missing the cut or Bill Murray's tossing elderly ladies into bunkers.

Jerry Higginbotham, Mark O'Meara's caddie, sounded the first note of alarm when he huffed into the press room and appealed to a Tour official to cancel the rest of the day. "We've got a four o'clock flight to Dubai," Higginbotham said plaintively. Those players with less pressing engagements slowly made their way to the tent at the driving range.

At 11:30 a.m. Ginn stood in the middle of the assembled mob and announced that there would be no official decision until 2 p.m. Veteran Kelly Gibson, who was idling in 44th place, then piped up, wondering if there was a chance that the tournament would be canceled. "There is a chance of anything," Ginn answered.

"Well, then," Gibson asked, "is there a chance you'll give me the winner's check?" The tent shook with laughter.

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