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Unsettling Site
Gary Van Sickle
October 01, 2001
At Laurel Valley, minds were 20 miles away
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October 01, 2001

Unsettling Site

At Laurel Valley, minds were 20 miles away

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When play on the PGA Tour resumed last week at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa., 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, the Marconi Pennsylvania Classic was billed as a return to business as usual, but, of course, if wasn't. How could it be? Barely a week earlier Laurel Valley caddie master Gregg Garrison had been standing in front of the massive brick clubhouse when an airliner roared directly overhead at an alarmingly low altitude. "It wasn't even 3,000 feet up," Garrison says. "As it went over the hillside a mile away, the wings waved and wobbled, and it started to bank."

United Flight 93, hijacked by terrorists, crashed less than 20 miles away, in Shanks-ville, about three minutes after passing over Laurel Valley. "From what I heard later," Garrison says, "I figure the passengers were going for the cockpit right about the time the plane went by here."

Two weeks after tournaments in Tampa and St. Louis had been canceled and the Ryder Cup had been pushed back a year, the Pennsylvania Classic was as much about flag—waving group therapy as it was about golf. "Everybody is talking about how we need to get back to normal," said Paul Azinger, a member of the Ryder Cup team. "I'm sorry, but we're never getting back to normal, and I don't think we should."

The crash site was the focal point of the week. "I feel as if I should go there," said Stewart Cink, another Ryder Cupper. Among others, First Lady Laura Bush, Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller toured the site, attended memorial services and spoke with mourners during the week. Last Thursday, the day the tournament began, Senator Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) introduced legislation calling for all 44 of the passengers on Flight 93 to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for what law enforcement agencies have concluded was a heroic effort to thwart the hijackers.

With evidence of the events of Sept. II close at hand, the PGA of America's decision to delay the Ryder Cup drew support from the six U.S. team members at Laurel Valley as well as from captain Curtis Strange. "Nobody's focus is much on golf," said Cink, who proved it by missing the cut. "I can't take three steps without thinking about what happened."

U.S. flags were everywhere at Laurel Valley—on the tee markers, on the flagsticks (similar star-spangled banners were also on the pins at Senior and tour events) and on the caps the Tour gave the players and their caddies. The caps also bore the words UNITED WE STAND. Larry Mize, who came in second, three shots behind winner Robert Allenby, pinned a red, white and blue ribbon made by Brian Watts's wife, Debbye, on his hat. "United We Stand-I like that," Mize said, "and I believe it's true."

Fred Funk's wife, Sharon, set a record for dandy Yankee doodling. Early in the week she painted a flag on her husband's golf bag and then did likewise on the bags of at least two dozen players. She supersized one version, painting the Stars and Stripes on the Cleveland Golf equipment van. "I wanted to do something," she said.

The Classic was a step toward normalcy, albeit a small one. Bomb-sniffing dogs checked packages that arrived at the clubhouse, and on Friday morning every player on the practice range froze when two large, unmarked helicopters lumbered over the course. The players' reaction was a sign of the times. "I agree with President Bush that we need to get back to normal," said Mize, "but normal now will be different than normal used to be."