June 29, 2001
“So, is this still on? Who’s winning?”
Last Father’s Day, the non-golfer in the family sat down with her in-laws and me to watch some of the U.S. Open. This non-golfer is an avid sports fan, in fact a hard core Philadelphia sports fan, but televised golf is not high on her list of fun things to sit through.
“Goosen has the lead, but there are still a few holes left,” I replied.
She stood up and said, “In that case, I think I’ll take the dog for a walk.”
The non-golfer returned thirty minutes later and began playing Free-cell on the computer in the home office.
Upon hearing our shouts from the living room, she ran in.
“So who won?”
“Nobody yet,” I replied. “Brooks and Goosen have to have an 18-hole playoff tomorrow. They both three-putted the last hole, and Cink blew himself out of it with another three-putt.”
“Unbelievable! This is interminable,” she muttered.
In this situation, I knew what I had to do.
Why, set up the VCR for the next day, of course.
I rewound the tape when I returned home from work that Monday, and began watching the playoff. After spending most of Sunday following the action during the entire fourth round, there was no way I was going to wait for ESPN’s Sportscenter to find out how Goosen beat Brooks.
The non-golfer checked in on me once or twice, repeated the “Interminable!” comment, but otherwise held her tongue.
On the other hand, she had a point.
Paul Lawrie won the 1999 British Open in a four-hole playoff, after Jean Van de Velde blew a three-shot lead on the 72d hole in spectacular fashion. The playoff framework seemed perfectly appropriate. John Daly’s British Open playoff win over Costantine Rocca at St. Andrews a few years earlier also used the same format to determine the winner. It was exciting, and it was over in about an hour.
Last year’s PGA Championship, won by Tiger Woods over Bob May, used a similar three-hole playoff. Even then, it came down to the wire, it was fun to watch, and it finished on Sunday.
On the other hand, the Masters Tournament and the normal PGA Tour events use a sudden death format immediately after the last round.
Given the normal limitations of television coverage of professional golf, a sudden death format makes sense for the usual weekly tournaments. Nonetheless, I think it’s better to use more than sudden death to see who wins a major.
There is so much riding on these four events that it hardly seems fair that a score on a single additional hole could determine the victor.
Just the same, the U.S. Open’s 18-hole playoff format is a bit much. The 1994 experience of Ernie Els, one of the other South African winners of this event, is a good example.
Colin Montgomerie, the well-fed Scottish golfer, finished in regulation tied with Els and PGA Tour player Loren Roberts. In the blistering heat near Pittsburgh, however, Montgomerie simply wilted the next day on the way to a 78. Neither Els nor Roberts played particularly well, either, and remained tied at 74 after the additional 18 holes. Els eventually won the ensuing sudden death playoff two holes later.
It seemed more like a marathon than a major golf tournament. More than just the players seemed exhausted.
A four-hole playoff seems like a better idea than the 18-hole format. I doubt the powers that be that run the United States Golf Association will change their minds anytime soon, though.