Groundhog Day in Maui

On Monday, for the third consecutive day, Rickie Fowler will hit the first official shot of the 2013 PGA Tour season.

He will do it on the third day of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua resort in Maui. And as most people know by now, that’s because the first two attempts were cancelled by torrential rains and winds the first day and gale force winds on the second.

Think that’s an exaggeration? It’s not. I looked it up. The Beaufort Wind Scale — I never heard of that before — says that winds of 39 to 46 mph are “Gale or Fresh Gale” winds. Andy Pazder, the Tour’s Chief of Operations, explained how bad it got: 

It’s the gusts that creep up above 40 that have knocked us out. We had registered gusts up to 48 miles an hour right before we suspended play today. Somewhere in the low 40s is what puts us out of business.

That was the science of what ended Sunday’s efforts to get the first 36 holes in, but it was the reality on the ground that drew attention to the consequences of the science. Matt Kuchar had quite an experience on the first tee.

By my count, it took you seven minutes to get your ball to the point where you could tee off on 10.  Webb [Simpson’s] caddie said it was the worst wind he had ever seen.  Can you just take us through that beginning?

I think most of us were anticipating not really playing today.  So as the countdown grew nearer and nearer to time to tee off, we were kept waiting to hear that it would be a half hour, an hour delay, or something more, and then they said we are really going to go.

And I warmed up yesterday, I warmed up four different times expecting — you always have to anticipate we are going to play.  And yesterday’s case, I probably had four different warmups, and on the range, it’s pretty sheltered.

Warming up, you felt like, all right, maybe it’s okay because you’re in the sheltered area.  Today, warming up on the range, for some reason, I felt like it was blowing a lot harder on the range than any of my warmup sessions yesterday.  And so I was surprised to be told that we really are going to play.

I got to 10 tee and they announced my name, I could hardly hear, the wind was blowing so loud.  Time to go and teed the ball up.  I think I was ready to hit it, and a gust of wind came and I backed off.  Went back to address the ball and another gust of wind.  The second gust blew the golf ball off the tee and it rolled probably four or five feet back from the tee.

We had a good laugh and thought, they have got to probably realize that it’s too difficult to play.  We had a pow‑wow and a meeting [with an official on the tee] and it took us five or six minutes to laugh it out and say, we are really going to go through with this.

During the course of that pow-wow, the group behind, which included Ian Poulter, showed up for their tee time. As the conversation between Kuchar and the official unfolded, Poulter chimed in with some urgency in his voice to offer that if the ball fell off the tee in mid-swing, “You could hurt yourself…” Presumably because with the body going full bore at a counterbalancing weight that suddenly disappeared, the body could involuntarily flinch; not good when you’re not expecting it.

Poulter was quite animated and as Kuchar and then his fellow competitor, Webb Simpson, took a stab at teeing off, Poulter could be seen in the background walking a number of paces away to turn and then watch their efforts. He seemed genuinely concerned for them; it was as if he was turning to watch an accident he knew was going to happen.

In Friday’s first round, it was Carl Pettersson’s ball that began just off the front of the green to a front right pin. He hit a soft putt to lag down to the hole, but the ball slowly curled down and around the hole to the edge of the green and then off down into the swale.

Sunday it was Ben Curtis’ turn:

Yeah, I hit it 25, 30 feet left of the pin and we were walking halfway down and my caddie said, hey, your ball is moving, and it rolled about another five feet.

We get over, Mark [Wilson] hits his putt and I get over mine, my hat was going to blow off and I turned it around backwards and still going to blow off.

So gave it to Mark’s caddie and I get over it for the third time and this time I see it’s going to move and it started to move a foot, two feet, three feet and just started picking up pace and off the green it went, 25 feet or so.

Then we called the officials over, just to let them know, nothing more so than, hey, what are we doing out here, the ball is moving this far.  Then chipped up 15 feet past the hole and 4‑putt for the second time in two holes (laughing).

Both greens in regulation and I’m 5‑over par [a 5 on the par-3 and a 7 on the par-4].  The only thing you can do is laugh.  We had to at least try because you never know.

So the Tour surrendering to the winds and cancelling two efforts to get the tournament in was not just some capricious, idle decision. They just didn’t want a circus full of pratfalls due in no part to the players skills. If the ball blows off the green before you touch it and won’t hold its line when you putt it, that’s a farce, not a showcase.

So they’re going to attempt to get 36 holes in on Monday and 18 on Tuesday so that it becomes an official 54-hole event. The players will have no trouble moving over to Honolulu for the Sony and the Golf Channel says they will still have enough time to barge their equipment over.

The festivities begin again on 1 and 10 at 7:10 and, no doubt, with Rickie Fowler joking that he’s having, “déjà vu all over again.” Although the winds are forecast to be high again, hopefully it’ll be the last time.

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