Trouble in paradise: Weather could push TOC to Tuesday
Sunday, January 6, 2013
KAPALUA, Hawaii – It’s as if Groundhog Day has arrived in paradise. The calendar says it’s Sunday, but it sure feels like Saturday. Or Friday. Wake up, feel the fury of wind, watch players walk around with long faces, listen to PGA Tour officials tell you play remains suspended.
Never has a season been so slow to start.
“Well, time to go back and relax,” Rickie Fowler said.
He had a smile on his face, but honestly, he might have been the only one. Most of those in the 30-player field at Hyundai Tournament of Champions spent yet another morning wandering around aimlessly, by now shell-shocked and dismayed at this incredible turn of events. Having arrived in tropical territory, they have yet to play an official shot in the season-opener.
Remaining in the grips of a high-pressure weather pattern that has hovered over the northern portion of Maui, this resort area continues to be battered by northeast winds consistently at 20-to-30 miles per hour. That’s bad enough, but it’s the 40-mile-per-hour gusts that have made golf impossible up here at the Plantation Course, high in the hills above the ocean.
In an attempt to play 36 holes, officials had pegged 7:10 a.m. as the official starting time, but that proved futile. Balls continued to blow all around the greens, particularly those early on the back nine, the 10th, 11th, and 13th being the worst areas.
“It was hard just walking,” said Slugger White, vice president of rules and competition for the PGA Tour. “The wind almost knocked me over. Flagsticks were bent at 45 degrees.”
Fierce winds forced a cancellation of play after just two hours Friday and what little golf was played was wiped out. They couldn’t play Saturday, either, but there was optimism Saturday evening that the winds would soften enough Sunday to allow for some golf.
“I think it’s actually windier,” Fowler said.
He’s been penciled in for the first tee time every day, which means he’s been among the earliest arrivals every day and a fixture on the range. Sunday morning, Fowler watched Webb Simpson struggle just to stand up as they hit balls.
Frustration surely has settled in, but to those who stand at the first tee, peer down at a fairway and glance off into a spectacular view of the Pailolo Channel toward a cloud-covered Molokai and wonder what the big deal is, Andy Pazder shakes his head.
“These decisions aren’t very hard. It’s not even borderline,” said the PGA Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations.
The decision to mow the greens Saturday morning was met with curiosity by some who felt that the idea was to slow them down, but PGA Tour official Jon Brendle defended the move.
“What’s the point in playing if you’re not going to play real golf?” Brendle asked. He also made the point that if greens weren’t mowed, players would be miserable putting greens running so slowly, and several competitors agreed with that assessment.
White said greens were mowed again Saturday night, but not Sunday morning, and Pazder could only shrug. “We’ve slowed them down a foot since Friday,” he said. “They were running 9 1/2 Friday but are at 8 1/2 now.”
The reality is, what is at the heart and soul of the Plantation Course’s rich character – dramatic elevation changes and great exposure to the ocean winds – is now its greatest downfall.
So, instead of golf, players tore into omelets and pineapples, or they headed back to their rooms at the Ritz-Carlton. How things play out from here will be for PGA Tour officials, TV bosses, and Hyundai to decide.
The best-case scenario is for 18 holes to be squeezed in Sunday, then 36 Monday. But if play can’t take place Sunday? “That brings Tuesday into the equation,” Pazder said.
And if Tuesday is a reality, that opens up a multitude of problems. First and foremost, the television component. Playing golf Tuesday to finish the Hyundai without TV is not a consideration. “That would be a little unfair to Hyundai,” Pazder said.
But to consider keeping TV equipment and personnel at the Plantation Course Tuesday could impact the coverage Thursday from the Sony Open in Honolulu over on the island of Oahu and that’s where discussions with The Golf Channel have to be sorted out.
Getting massive amounts of TV equipment from Maui to Oahu is an enormous task. It requires at least six hours for personnel to break everything down, load four or five trucks, then get those trucks onto a freighter. As it is, that freighter is scheduled to leave late Monday night, so departing Tuesday or Wednesday clearly impacts the coverage of the Sony Open.
All of this is presently being discussed by the respective parties, but in the meantime the wind howls, even as sun has stayed out consistently for the first time since Monday.