Golf an afterthought on an unforgettable day

Rickie Fowler throws snowballs at fellow players in the parking lot after a snow storm suspended the Match Play Championship.

Rickie Fowler throws snowballs at fellow players in the parking lot after a snow storm suspended the Match Play Championship.

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9:53:25 AM ET. 04/20/2014




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MARANA, Ariz. – It was a tough assignment, but Rickie Fowler was prepared to take it on.

There would be a sledding competition at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain and he would pick out the spot.

“Front of seventh green,” Fowler said.

Most of those in the small circle of caddies and players agreed, though Scott Gneiser, David Toms' looper, offered another choice. “To the side of nine green,” he said.

There was general agreement that both spots would be fine, only someone inquired as to where they would get sleds. Silence. They hadn’t thought of that, and it was said that it was unlikely that stores in Arizona sold such objects. No worries, Fowler said. “We’ll slide OK in our rainsuits.”

With a nod of the head, another in the group said they definitely couldn’t count on Wynand Stander or Zack Rasego to go with them, and folks looked out the window where the caddies for Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, respectively, were tossing snowballs as if they were 10-year-olds. And why not? As South Africans, neither Stander nor Rasego had ever seen snow.

Just don’t tar Rory McIlroy with that brush. “I was just in Aspen,” he said. “I saw lots of snow.”

The world’s top-ranked golfer also skied so he felt confident as he looked out the window that if he had to, “I could ski to get out of here.”

And on and on went the conversations, the jokes, the laughter, because what’s a field of 64 golfers to do when it snows on your World Golf Championship? There’s no cryin’ in golf; let the laughter roll.

This suspension of play in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship might have been foreign stuff for most of the field, but not everyone. Thongchai Jaidee, for instance, remembers playing in the snow in Japan perhaps 12 years ago. “But not like this,” he said, pointing outside were about 2 inches of snow had settled on the landscape. “This is crazy.”

The man from Thailand laughed, then shook his head, though on this bizarre day he could come closest to saying he played a round of golf. Out in the first match against Sergio Garcia, Jaidee got to the 16th green before the proceedings were halted.

“Great putt on 16, Jaidee,” said Shane Lowry when the two met in the warmth of the locker room, where the Irishman had seen the 15-footer on TV. “Birdie?”

Jaidee smiled, as he so often does, and said no. It was for par. The good news is, he made it. The bad news is, Garcia had a birdie putt to win the hole and close out the match.

Then again, if Garcia were to make the putt, “it would be OK,” Jaidee said. “This is good tournament, but everything’s good.”

With play temporarily suspended, players and caddies spread out throughout the clubhouse and locker room. Lowry had a warm and comfortable seat in the TV room, having beaten McIlroy to the spot. Their match had never gotten under way and so as he brushed snow off of his sweater, McIlroy rushed in and said to Lowry, “It’s like the west of Ireland,” and they shared stories of golf tournaments played in hail and sleet back when they did it for love, not for millions of dollars.

Tiger Woods, off in the penultimate match, had run from his car into the clubhouse, just as the snow came falling at a more furious pace, and the first person he saw was Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. “How ‘bout this?” Woods said to his first-round opponent from a year ago and minutes later, he was situated in the corner of the TV room, engrossed in conversation with this year’s first-round foe, Charles Howell III.

There was hot tea and hot coffee, a fire going in the fireplace, and towels on nearly every table so that those who had been out in the elements could dry off and restore warmth to their bodies. The sights and sounds filled the wait with entertainment:

• There was Martin Kaymer reviving memories of 2011 when he wore a stylish “snood” in his championship loss to Luke Donald. “I just went out and bought it yesterday,” Kaymer said. “I don’t know where the old one is.”

• Standing outside in the snow, Donald, whose match with Marcel Siem was one of nine that never started, said he was trying to “climatize.” Told that the last time it snowed at this tournament, 2011, he won, Donald smiled and nodded.

• When asked how far his match had gone, Colin Byrne, the caddie for Ernie Els, said, “we are on the fourth ski slope, I mean, fairway.”

• Jimmy Johnson, the caddie for Steve Stricker, had important business to attend to. So many matches been whisked from the course that there were not enough vans for everyone. So Johnson accepted a ride in an open golf cart, but a sheet of ice had formed on the side of the golf bag. He had to go get that taken care of.

• Player after player and caddie after caddie stood on the outside deck and took photos and videos, then tossed snowballs at Stander and Rasego.

• When Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s head of rules of competition, told players that things looked bleak but to hold on for another hour to see if the snow melted, players settled in for a longer wait. Garcia, however, wanted to know if they could switch to colored golf balls and McIlroy beat Lowry to the punch. “I claim orange,” he said.

• By then, the food had started flowing, and what goes better with lunch than a good football game on TV? Garcia took over. He asked for assistance from the clubhouse attendant, but the gentleman seemed hesitant. “Is that OK with everyone?” he asked, and Garcia answered for all: “Of course,” he said to loud laughter. After 10 minutes the mission failed, however, at which time Garcia commandeered the clicker, navigated furiously for another five minutes and discovered what he wanted: Fox Soccer Channel. Great joy. Then sheer disgust, because the screen read, “not authorized.” Garcia tossed a glove at the TV, his bid to watch a soccer match in Spain thwarted, so onto the TV came Galatasaray vs. Schalke, a European Championship contest.

• Not that there wasn’t some golf talk. Lance Bennett, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, was describing how they had won the third hole, an up-and-down from the back bunker. “What, you didn’t hit a 5-iron in the water like me?” asked Jason Dufner, disgusted with the way he had played (he was 3 down through 10 against Richard Sterne). “My driver just doesn’t go through snow.”

• When finally, at just after 1 p.m., the players were asked to file into the dining room, they were told by Russell that play had been suspended for the day. No surprise, but Zach Johnson had a question: “Will we resume or are we scratching the entire round?” The room erupted in laughter, for everyone knew that on this cold and snowy day, things had been worst for Johnson; he was 6 down through 10 holes to Jason Day.

Of course, the day will not be wiped out. It will be entered into the record books, an unforgettable day filled with more snow than golf, and it was left for one and all to hope that some heat arrives so that the golf tournament can achieve a semblance of order.

Oh, and there was one more thing.

“Can we drive in this stuff?” asked a caddie, who conceded he, too, had never seen snow, let alone tried to maneuver a car in it.

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