MARANA, Ariz. – As a couple of inches of snow pounded down onto the cold desert ground Wednesday, turning the jumping chollas and other cacti into surreal images, the jokes arose, steadily if not rapid-fire.
The WGC-Accenture Match Play winner, one crack went, should be called “Best in Snow.” Then came the suggestion that the champion be known as the “Wizard in the Blizzard.”
Just like that in late morning on opening day, temperatures fell into the low 30s, wind gusted to 35 mph, rain turned to sleet and the focus went from golf balls to snowballs. This was improbable reality, no desert mirage.
“Very Christmasy all of a sudden,” said Ian Poulter, 3 up through 12 holes when play was halted at 11:05 a.m. at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. “It’s absolutely remarkable to think one minute we’re playing golf, and then within a space of 25 minutes, it turns from playable to cold drizzle to sleet and to snow. And then you’ve got (almost) 2 inches of snow on the ground. It’s just bizarre.”
Anything is possible, the PGA Tour slogan has gone. Given Wednesday’s Blitz at the Ritz, turns out the marketeers were right.
The saying also says these guys are good. But they are no match for Mother Nature. Her wicked sense of humor transformed Dove Mountain into a ski resort. Check that: White Dove Mountain.
“Yeah, G-Mac (Graeme McDowell) said there’s some skis and ski boots at the front if we wanted to go skiing down these slopes, which is kind of funny,” said Jason Day, 6 up through 10 holes on Zach Johnson.
And so boys became boys during the two-hour delay before play was halted for good for the day, with nine of the 32 matches not having started. Branden Grace could be seen firing snowballs outside the clubhouse. Caddies, as well, had snowball fights, and some made snow angels on the ground. Gallows humor was in full bloom.
Even Webb Simpson was cracking a joke. “It was a good day, man,” the U.S. Open champion said. “I hit one shot and they blew the horn.”
Rory McIlroy, the World No. 1 at 23, said he had never seen anything like it. Others longer in the tooth and beard said as much.
Jim Furyk went to the University of Arizona in nearby Tucson but has never witnessed anything remotely this bizarre in these parts.
“I’ve never seen it snow that long and hard and stick,” he said. “It’s crazy. If this were a ski resort, this is the kind of snow we would wish for.”
Soon before Furyk spoke, he heard some snowballs hit a clubhouse window. Forgive him for jumping, for he said the impacts “sounded like wet bombs.”
Nor did Adam Scott know what to think when he was standing over a tee shot on No. 9 and snow pelted the turf around his ball.
“That was the weirdest thing,” Scott said. “I was standing over the ball thinking, ‘Am I really going to hit this?’ ”
Eventually the answer was, Yes. But he wouldn’t have minded a mental mulligan, for he drove into a bunker and play was stopped before opponent Tim Clark, 1 down, teed off.
“I took so long to get ready to hit that drive that I felt I couldn’t delay any longer,” Scott said, smiling.
One can’t blame Scott and others for being surprised by the weather, for Tour types estimate it has snowed at Tour events only about a half dozen times over the years.
And with snow comes cold and, it follows, numb hands. Little wonder no player was sorry to hear the siren sound a few minutes after temperatures plummeted and snow covered greens.
“My hands were frozen,” said John Senden, 5 down to Bo Van Pelt through 12 holes. “My thoughts were that this was getting beyond a joke. I was gripping the club so hard, but I had no feel in my hands as it rained and got colder and colder.”
Poulter was among others who said as much, that he had “no feel in his fingers.”
As for where we go from here, the forecast calls for temperatures in the low-30s Thursday morning and in the mid-50s in afternoon. The plan is to resume play at 8:30 a.m., with the second round beginning around midday and the tournament ending Sunday as scheduled.
The cold and snow also make one wonder whether Steve Stricker doesn’t suddenly become a tournament favorite. He lives in the winter tundra of Wisconsin. He has been there the last six weeks rehabilitating an injury. He hits balls every winter into snow from heated bays. He’s fresh. And so far in this climate he has won every hole, all two against Henrik Stenson.
The guy feels at home when it’s freezing and might even think this is summer. So I fancy his chances, whether we’re talking golf balls or snowballs.