High winds produce low farce as Kapalua schedule blown off course again and again


Carl Pettersson’s restart at the Tournament of Champions late on Sunday began the way his Friday round ended, with his ball tracking beautifully toward the pin only to get caught in a 40-mph gust that pushed it past the hole and off the green.

The risible roll of Pettersson’s birdie attempt at number two on Friday helped persuade tour officials to suspend the first round at the Plantation Course with the lead group on the eighth hole.

His approach shot on Sunday at number 10 – which landed pin-high about 15 feet away, caught a good tail wind, rolled past the cup and settled in rough 62 feet from the hole – was one shot in a kaleidoscope of calamitous images from the field’s futile battle with the elements.

After waiting 46 hours to tee it up again after Friday’s scores were scrubbed because of high wind, the 30 golfers in the field spent 70 minutes demonstrating for the folks on the mainland why they had no choice but to stand idly by and let Mother Nature play through.

Playing in abundant sunshine, the first groups had completed five holes when play was suspended, then scrubbed. Intent on crowning a 54-hole winner, tournament and tour officials decided the golfers were to play 36 holes yesterday and 18 today.

Ian Poulter, who started his round at the exposed 10th hole, three groups ahead of Pettersson, said, “We’ve attempted to go out and play and have shown everybody the golf course is unplayable.”

Poulter approached the 10th tee box for the start of his round as Matt Kuchar, who was in the opening group, was standing over his ball and watching it oscillate on the tee like a hula dancer. The howling wind had drowned out the introduction of Kuchar on the tee and was making the “Quiet” signs in the volunteers” hands bend backward.

Twice when Kuchar teed the ball, the wind knocked it off. It appeared the only way he was going to be able to hit his drive was if someone placed an index finger on the ball like a player over a rugby kicking tee.

Kuchar’s playing partner, Webb Simpson, greeted Poulter by saying: “This is worse, right? No question.”

Persistent rain

Simpson’s caddie, Adam Hayes, speaking to no one in particular, said the wind not only was worse than on Friday or Saturday, when a persistent rain added to the competitors’ misery, but was “the worst I’ve ever seen.” (Keegan Bradley, who was a competitive skier before he settled on golf, said: “I’ve never felt wind like this. Maybe at the top of a ski hill or something.”)

Seven minutes passed before the wind died down enough for Kuchar to hit his drive, during which he consulted with John Brendle, a PGA Tour rules official. Simpson needed roughly the same amount of time to erase the pleasing memories of his Friday round, when he hit the first seven greens in regulation on his way to a three-under-par start before the scores were wiped out.

Simpson, the US Open champion, missed the green on number 10 and carded a bogey. Arriving back at the clubhouse after play was called, he said, “More bad things are happening today than in the first round.”

Even before persistent gusts pushed the finish of the season-opening event back a day, the schedule was a major talking point for the players. The tour is shifting its calendar, which means the 2014 season will start in October, less than a month after the 2013 season ends with the Tour Championship.

As if the winds of change turning the schedule inside out are not hard enough for the players to navigate, Mother Nature had to pile on. There is also the wraparound controversy, which has drawn as much attention among the players as the wraparound schedule.

Anchored putting

The ban on anchored strokes, which was proposed in November, returned to the fore last week when Pettersson, the highest-ranked player in putting among those who use anchored strokes, described the movement to outlaw the stroke he has used for the past 16 years as a “witch hunt”.

Pettersson, who ranked 21st in strokes gained putting in 2012, switched to a long putter during his sophomore year of college and said he had spent tens of thousands of hours working on the stroke.

“People think it’s a magic wand and it’s just not,” said Pettersson, who secured his invitation here with a victory at Hilton Head. “If it was a big help, none of the top 10 would use it.”

Pettersson is 35, with five tour victories and more than €14.5 million in career earnings. The proposed ban on anchored strokes is due to take effect in 2016, when he will have 16 years of professional golf behind him and his eight-year-old daughter Carlie’s teenage years in front of him.

Would Pettersson consider retiring in 2016 to spend more time with his family rather than try to ply his trade with a conventional putter? “I don’t think so,” he said, “because I love playing golf.”

Pettersson is bypassing the tour stop outside San Diego this month, so he will not be at a players meeting that is expected to become contentious between those who use long putters and those who do not.

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