Asked to make a forecast last Saturday morning, meteorologist
Greg Quinn turned and glanced at a bank of computer monitors.
One screen showed real-time lightning strikes in the continental
U.S. Another screen showed an isobar map of barometric
pressures, while yet another provided a Doppler-radar view of
the Minneapolis area. "On a day like this," Quinn finally said
with a thoughtful nod, "I like a player like Justin Leonard, who
controls his irons really well."
This is an article from the Aug. 26, 2002 issue
A few hours later Leonard went out and shot a three-under-par 69
to take the third-round lead at the PGA Championship. Quinn,
watching the tournament telecast in a mobile weather van parked
by the practice range at Hazeltine National Golf Club, shrugged
modestly when asked how he had picked Leonard out of 71
weather-beaten golfers. It had something to do with a huge
low-pressure system that had dropped out of Canada on Friday
night, hurling lightning bolts from all four points of the
compass and dumping three inches of rain on Hazeltine. And it had
something to do with Leonard, a good wind player and former
British Open champion who figured to do well in Saturday's cool,
dry swirls. "I had a good feeling about Justin," Quinn said.
"He's hitting his irons well, and his putting stroke looks
These days, you not only need a weatherman to know which way the
wind blows, but also to know if Fred Funk is going to be a factor
on Sunday. In April heavy rains at the Masters forced Tiger Woods
to mud wrestle for his third green jacket. In June a daylong
downpour on Long Island turned the second round of the U.S. Open
into a trial by water, and Woods won again. Then a confluence of
meteorological events in Scotland conspired to produce a freakish
third round at the British Open, complete with horizontal rain,
numbing windchill and a career-worst score of 81 by Woods.
It was Mother Nature who arrived at Hazeltine with a chance to
achieve the calendar-year Grand Slam. She warmed up on Thursday
with some thunderstorms that delayed first-round play for three
hours and kept 39 players from finishing. She followed with
Friday evening's low-pressure assault, but tournament officials
cleared the course of spectators and players and sent everyone
home before the first drops fell. The real impact, therefore, was
delayed until Saturday, when cool Canadian air swept across
central Minnesota and battered Hazeltine with 38-mph gusts. "It's
brutal out there," said meteorologist Mike McClellan, Quinn's
boss and president of Mobile Weather Team, Inc. "There are
whitecaps on the water at the 16th hole."
What followed made for great entertainment, if you're the sort of
person who likes disaster movies and bear markets. Matt Gogel
staggered in with an 83 and said, "I was in spots where the 18
handicappers are in a pro-am." Five-time British Open champion
Tom Watson also shot 83 and said, "The wind is maybe getting even
with me after all these years." Thomas Levet smiled gamely after
shooting 82, but his French accent couldn't camouflage his
dismay; walking with his caddie down a dark corridor in the
clubhouse, Levet grumbled about the 16th hole, which he had
How ill was Saturday's wind? Well, the field's stroke average was
75.83, the highest ever recorded in the third round of a PGA.
Only three players besides Leonard broke par, and 30 players shot
77 or higher. Phil Mickelson, still looking for his first major
title, shot 78. Young American prospects Charles Howell and Pat
Perez shot 80 and 85, respectively. Even Ernie Els, who survived
ugly weather a month ago to secure his first British Open title,
seemed happy with a 75. Said Els, "At least at Muirfield we
played a course that was designed for this kind of weather"--that
is, a firm, fast layout open to bump-and-run shots.
That's not to say that Hazeltine's penultimate round will be
remembered as the toughest in major-championship history. The
conditions were not as difficult as those in the final round of
the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, won by Tom Kite. "That was
the most incredible wind I've ever played in," said Rocco
Mediate, who shot 70 on Saturday. "That course was never
playable." And the conditions were not as hard as those in the
1999 British Open at Carnoustie, where high winds and a sadistic
course setup made the fairways almost impossible to hit.
"Carnoustie had the toughest conditions I ever played in," said
Funk, whose third-round 73 at Hazeltine boosted him to an
eventual tie for fourth, his best-ever finish in a major. "I
remember the R&A saying they didn't expect the wind to blow, and
Colin Montgomerie said, 'The wind blows all the time, so what are
Conditions at Hazeltine were not as hard as ... well, let's just
say that there are shoes and socks that still haven't dried out
from a certain Saturday afternoon on the Firth of Forth. "Today
is not even close to what we had to play in at Muirfield," said
Woods, who sailed through Hazeltine's wind tunnel with a birdie,
a bogey and 16 pars. "It was blowing just as hard, but it was
raining and the windchill was 32 or 34 degrees that day. On top
of that, you had 20-yard-wide fairways with waist-high rough--a
little different than this course."
"This was just pure wind," echoed Nick Faldo, whose 74 on
Saturday was two strokes better than his score on Friday, when
birds sat on branches without the aid of Velcro. "For the U.S.
Open we had rain. For the British Open we had a winter summer's
In fact, if you weren't playing golf or trying to read a
newspaper on the terrace, the weather at Hazeltine on Saturday
was splendid. Blue skies and temperatures in the mid-60s made it
the most comfortable day at the PGA since 1998, when the
tournament was held at Sahalee Country Club in the Pacific
Northwest. The wind made the marsh grasses wave and launched
ripples of reflected sunlight across the brooks and ponds.
Aesthetics aside, Hazeltine remained playable for many in the
field. Friday night's deluge flooded bunkers and created a
magnificent new lake in the middle of Hazeltine's practice
range, but it also softened the fairways and made the greens
receptive. That created options for a wind-cheating player like
Leonard, whose extra lag and hooded clubface allow him to shoot
the ball low. "He's a pure ball-control type of player," said
Funk. "So there he is, atop the board."
The players also benefited from the tournament officials'
decision to move the tees up on four holes because of the wind.
The signature 16th, a nasty 402-yard par-4 on a sliver of land
between a stream and Lake Hazeltine, played 55 yards shorter on
Saturday. "That was a great move, for them to move that up," said
Hal Sutton. "Sixteen would have been unplayable from the back."
More than one player took the opportunity to criticize the USGA
for not shortening any holes at Bethpage on the stormy Friday at
the U.S. Open, where some players couldn't reach the fairways
with their drivers on the longest par-4s. "They knew they made a
mistake," Scott McCarron said of the USGA, "and I was glad the
PGA didn't follow suit."
Hazeltine was still nightmarish on Saturday. At midday a
four-club wind punished the exposed holes and made the trees
behind sheltered greens dance like characters in an old Disney
cartoon. "It was coming out of all different directions,
swirling around the trees," said Woods. "Sometimes I got
fooled." Mediate, who signed the scorecard for his 70 like a man
who thinks he's buying a Lexus for $100, said, "I just wanted to
survive. Certain shots, you can't even look at the flagstick,
because it's stupid."
The 436-yard 9th hole, playing into the wind, was so tough on
Saturday that only one player in four reached the green in
regulation. The 8th hole, a 178-yard par-3 over water, became an
aqua-range, finishing first in difficulty at 3.62 strokes per
victim. When McCarron was asked which hole he thought was
toughest, he nominated "the one I made an 8 on"--number 16. Loren
Roberts probably would have agreed. He walked up to mark his ball
on the 16th green, but before he could, the wind rolled it
another four feet away from the hole.
"I backed off twice on 16," said Mediate. "I couldn't stay still.
The wind was moving me."
Other players kept their balance but suffered from psychological
windburn. "My brain's a bit numb," said 22-year-old Justin Rose,
who had trouble remembering the details of a 76 that included two
double bogeys. "I think by the end of the day the wind had sapped
my strength. It was hard to concentrate." Rose's caddie, worn out
from lugging a big staff bag through gusts that nudged and bumped
like a revolving door, shook his head and said, "There are some
big numbers out there."
Indeed, there were. The Minneapolis airport recorded a wind gust
of 39 mph on Saturday--the highest nonstorm wind reading on record
for the date--and registered 1.87 inches of overnight rainfall,
the most for that period of time since 1927. McClellan, working
alongside Quinn in the Mobile Weather Team van, said, "This has
been a real good week for us."
By good, he apparently meant interesting.
Last Saturday's 38-mph winds at Hazeltine were par for the course
this year. Players have had to contend with horrific weather in
at least one round in three of the four majors in 2002. Here's
how scores ballooned in those rounds.
Four-Round (Weather Round)
Major Par Field Avg. Field Avg.
PGA 72 73.49 (3rd) 75.83
British 71 71.21 (3rd) 74.61
U.S. 70 74.91 (2nd) 76.48