The thunderstorms and steady downpour that reduced the finely manicured Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club into marshy wetlands over the weekend finally relented yesterday afternoon, sparing tournament officials the headache of the first Monday finish at a PGA Championship since the season’s final major was last played here in 2005 – and further criticism over how it was handled.
By the time Jimmy Walker drained a nervy three-foot putt to cap a no-bogey 67 and seal his first major championship, the rivers that had flowed through the fairways and puddles that had gathered on the greens and bunkers less than 24 hours earlier were distant memories, a testament to the yeoman work of Mark Kuhns’ groundstaff.
“Mark and his crew, the volunteers, everyone that’s kind of made this tournament what it is, definitely needs more than a pat on the back,” said Jason Day, who eagled the 18th to finish second, falling one stroke short of becoming the only player besides Tiger Woods to defend the PGA title since it went to strokeplay in 1958. “Because with the amount of rain I’m not sure if these guys have had any time off at all. To be able to get the course ready, playable for us, is pretty special.”
Bipolar weather had dogged the tournament nearly from the start with a quarter-inch of rain overnight on Thursday leading to a late start on Friday, but not until the following day had it become the prevailing narrative. Third-round play was called for the day late on Saturday afternoon a half-hour before the last group was scheduled to tee off and nearly four hours after the warning horn initially sent players off to the clubhouse. Ten of the 47 players who returned early on Sunday morning to complete their rounds played a full 18 holes.
The final round began at 8.40am yesterday with the final pairing of Walker and Robert Streb scheduled for 3.16pm. The PGA, which conducts the tournament, had issued a release saying Saturday tickets would be honoured for Monday if play was forced on to a fifth day. But with rain forecast for the area on Sunday and Monday, there was the alarming prospect that play could be pushed further into the week. Not since the 1987 US Women’s Open at nearby Plainfield Country Club had a major tournament finished on a Tuesday.
Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s chief championships officer, answered criticism for not altering the format to a two-tee start on Saturday to ensure the completion of the third round in the face of a grim forecast, creating a situation where a number of within touching distance of the lead – among them Kevin Kisner and Padraig Harrington – were playing their fourth rounds while the leaders were playing their thirds.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with not being able to complete or even resume play for today,” Haigh said. “We had the three cells of dangerous weather. We suspended when the first one came. The second two were only 30, 35 miles to our south, southwest. The forecast was for them to move through, and there was some clear skies behind them.
“When the third cell went through and dissipated it was safe; then the rain came down a lot heavier and caused basically the golf course to have standing water and was unplayable. And even if it were to stop, we could not get the course playable.”
Had the tournament been pushed to Monday, it would have created a scheduling nightmare for those players – among them Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler – who are flying to Rio de Janeiro this week to participate in Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony. But after a flash storm early on Sunday afternoon that did not require a stoppage, the players could complete their final rounds beneath overcast skies and in sweltering humidity.
Ultimately the weather complied, perhaps bailing out the PGA and ensuring the grounds staff’s overnight work was not for nothing. “These guys are here at the crack of dawn and here until the end of the day, and they are doing that every single day,” As Day said: “Hats off because we’ve just got to go out there and chase a white golf ball, and these guys are working very, very hard.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010