It ended as the week that never was. That would normally be an
absurd thing to say about a tournament in which Tom Watson, Nick
Faldo, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson were within two strokes
of the lead going into a final round they would play over a trio
of Monterey Peninsula courses at their flagstick-bending
nastiest. But the absurd fact was, because heavy rains made it
impossible to take a legal drop on one hole, the 1996 AT&T
Pebble Beach National Pro-Am might as well have never happened.
Obviously, judging by all the mud-stained trousers, something
happened. But all that was produced was the most unsatisfactory
finish since your Mr. Fix-it uncle tried to apply a coat of
spray paint to the antique rolltop desk. When the PGA Tour and
the tournament committee decided on Sunday that the 16th hole at
Spyglass Hill simply could not be played under a strict
interpretation of the Rules of Golf, the tournament that gave us
the term Crosby weather to define the golfer's ultimate battle
against the elements, was regrettably canceled after 36
holes--without a winner--due to wet conditions.
The sodden ending represented the first such cancellation in the
tournament's 50 years at Pebble Beach and the first time a Tour
event could not be completed since the Colonial National
Invitation was washed out in 1949. Officials said the event
would not be replayed this year. All 180 of the professionals in
the field, from Jeff Maggert, who scored an eight-under-par 136,
to John Flannery, who had an 18-over-par 162, received $5,000 in
unofficial money. Their amateur partners were all sent home
without a chance to make the cut.
Inasmuch as no one wanted such a miserable result, it seemed
eminently avoidable. The first two rounds--during which players
were allowed to lift, clean and place their ball due to muddy
conditions from a week's worth of rain--went off without a hitch.
By Friday night the event was right on schedule with 24 players
within three shots of Maggert's lead, one of whom, Mickelson,
was going for his third consecutive victory. Coming off a
dramatic Phoenix Open the previous week, the weekend promised to
be another classic.
February 12, 1996
Instead, things quickly went from best case to worst. Heavy
overnight rains soaked the three tournament courses--Pebble
Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills--causing officials to
suspend play on Saturday without a shot being fired. Suddenly,
with the weather forecast dire and the courses too saturated to
drain, the tournament was in jeopardy. Events in which one or
even two courses are used can be declared official after 36
holes, but the three-course rotation in the AT&T meant that
under the rules all of the players had to play each of the 54
holes for the tournament and its purse to count. Still,
officials seemed confident that they could get in 18 more holes,
even if play had to be extended into Monday. Although the
greens, in the words of Mike Springer, "putted like waffle
irons," both Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills remained playable,
even after the weekend drenching. So was most of Spyglass Hill,
except for a stretch along the 16th hole that would ultimately
sink the tournament. The 468-yard par-4, named Black Dog, became
so saturated along its left side that, according to officials,
it became impossible to play under the rules.
That's because there is much more to the rule governing relief
from casual water than simply finding dry land. Whereas most
amateurs simply kick their ball from a soaked area to the most
convenient place that's dry and safe, rule 25-1 states that
where casual water exists, a player who elects to exercise his
right to move his ball must take full and complete relief at the
nearest point not closer to the hole. The problem was, on the
left side of the 16th fairway, there was no such point. The only
nearby dry ground was in the left rough, but from there a shot
would be obstructed by trees. Under the rule, a shot that is
interfered with by tree branches is not considered full and
complete relief. The bottom line: Short of playing from casual
water, as much as an inch deep on the fairway, a player who
drove along the left side of 16 and into casual water had no way
of playing without cheating. It was the chief reason play was
called on Saturday.
Some veterans of the Pro-Am, who pride themselves on being golf
survivalists, felt the rules should have been bent and that the
show should have gone on. Ken Venturi, who first played in the
Crosby in 1951, took umbrage with the decision to suspend play
on Saturday, contending that "you can find a place to hit it."
He recounted how Cary Middlecoff had once walked off Cypress
Point because 45-mph winds kept blowing his ball off the tee.
The Pebble Beach pro, Peter Hay, represented the spirit of the
tournament when he ordered Middlecoff back on the course with
this challenge: "Show me in the rule book where it says you have
to tee up the ball."
That spirit hasn't died. "We should be out there slopping
around," said Johnny Miller, a three-time winner. "Who cares if
we shoot high? This is an entertainment tournament." Added
defending champion Peter Jacobsen, "We just need to tee it up."
When Sunday morning came, it looked as if a memorable round
might be in the offing. Although more rain had fallen during the
night, winds in excess of 30 mph had cleared the sky. Faldo took
a mental reading and declared that it would be a tougher day
than the final round of the 1992 U.S. Open, when the average
score at Pebble Beach was 77 and change. The prospect of the
pros being buffeted hither and yon was enough to raise hopes
that this was a tournament, 54 holes or not, that could be
saved. Watson was particularly primed. "I'm very eager," he
said. "I'm looking forward to winning. I just hope they don't
cancel the golf tournament."
But that's what officials did. An army of blowers and squeegees
had the area along the 16th improving on Sunday when a heavy
squall undid all the work. Faced with the hopeless task of
saving the day, and a Monday forecast for more rain (it turned
out to be a beautiful day), officials from the tournament and
the PGA Tour, despite pressure from television, decided to
cancel the entire event. "We couldn't play under the casual
water rule strictly," said David Eger, the Tour's vice president
of competition. "The Tour has stayed firm about playing under
the Rules of Golf."
That last sentence eliminated a lot of options that seemed to
make sense to those who found it ridiculous that a tournament as
rich in tradition as the AT&T could be crippled for want of a
drop area. Closing down Spyglass on Saturday or Sunday and
moving the entire field to Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach would
have violated the fundamental principle of a common playing
field. Even retroactively eliminating the 16th hole at Spyglass
from a player's score so that the other 17 holes on the course
could be played, as Faldo suggested, is against the Rules of
Golf. Getting the players to agree to waive the casual water
option and play the ball as it lay would have also compromised
the rules. And since the very appearance of compromising the
competition is deemed a slippery slope, the Tour has always
clung to a strict interpretation of the rules, even if it means
a tournament is ruined.
As harsh as the decision seemed, it caused little grumbling.
Maggert, who by rights should have been despondent over losing a
chance at a second career victory and $270,000, not to mention
possible points for the Ryder and Presidents cups, was
philosophical. "It was a logical decision," he said. "You can't
change the Rules of Golf just to get in a tournament."
Ironically, the best show of the week, a hastily thrown together
shootout involving six celebrity twosomes that CBS used to fill
time on Saturday, was a complete mockery of the rules. The
best-ball teams played mulligans (including one after Bill
Murray teed off with an exploding ball) and simply skipped the
16th at Pebble Beach because it was wet. Propriety was also
waived. Faldo, caddying for his amateur partner Huey Lewis, wore
a frightful wig. Half of the winning team, Murray, wore
overalls. When AT&T chairman Bob Allen presented Murray with the
$20,000 first prize--which Murray and his partner, Glen Campbell,
donated to Monterey's John Steinbeck Museum--and said, "I can't
believe I'm giving a check to someone on a golf course dressed
like you," the comedian put his own spin on one more tired golf
ritual by answering, "I can't believe I'm taking a check from
someone like you."
As it turned out, everybody who played for pay got a check. In a
week that otherwise never was, that relative pittance was a
fitting symbol for a tournament in which principal was
outstripped by principle.