Monday, June 16, 2008

Like that last dinner guest who refuses to leave, the 18-hole United States Open playoff lingers in the corner, telling stories that only a few want to hear, nose high in the air, rifling through that last bag of potato chips. Some folks love the guy. He's been around for years, after all, talking about the good old days and tradition and all that jazz. But he's a bit of a blowhard, going on and on with seemingly with no end in sight.
The Masters has sudden death, the British Open has four extra holes, the PGA Championship has three. Only the U.S. Open tries to re-create the magic of Sunday-evening championship golf during Monday rush-hour traffic.
Who likes the 18-hole playoff? The USGA, for one, insisting that a championship of such desperate importance be settled over 18 holes. NBC and ESPN must like it because they get one more day of Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate making love to the camera. (Not sure if they liked it so much in 2001 at Southern Hills Country Club when the combatants were Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks.)
Who doesn't like the 18-hole playoff? The USGA, for one, at least in the United States Women's Open. Two years ago at Newport Country Club, Annika Sorenstam and Pat Hurst played an 18-hole playoff in front of about 100 people, if that many. It was embarrassing. It looked like Tuesday at the Reno-Tahoe Open. Actually, that's an insult to the Reno-Tahoe Open. So the USGA scuttled the 18-hole playoff in the women's championship the following year, shortening it to three holes. So much for desperate importance.
The fans? What fans? They're all at work, or sitting in traffic, or pouring the Cherrios for the tykes, or taking Buster and Choo-Choo out for a walk. In this economy, how many fans are going to risk playing hooky to go back to Torrey Pines, even if it's one more chance to watch the guy in the red shirt and the dude with the peace belt?
The players? Depends. Goosen was happy as a clam to get a full night's sleep and a chance to forget about missing a two-footer for par on the 72nd hole that would have won the championship outright. (He won it the next day.) Hurst? She was so jazzed after making a short putt to join Sorenstam in a playoff that she wanted to play right then and there. She didn't want a Monday playoff. She wanted to settle it at dusk. Momentum was with her. On Monday, Sorenstam crushed her.
The writers? Most of us hate it, but the reasons vary. Some have very tight deadlines, and the extra day of play (especially for the magazine scribes) drives you and the editors back home nuts. Some have Monday-morning flights that must be re-booked. Bye-bye non-stop! You are now instead booked on flight #666 Monday night from San Diego to New York, with stops in Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Should get you back home sometime Friday.
And then there are the writers who had Monday tee times at Torrey Pines, courtesy of a USGA lottery. There goes the chance to shoot 130 from the tips. The course will belong to Tiger and Rocco instead of a press room full of hacks. Not that I was at Southern Hills in 2001 or Newport in 2006 with a golden ticket, every groove of my clubs cleaned, a golf bag filled with white pearls, a head swimming with a million swing thoughts, ready to play my own 18 holes if not for the U.S. Open's 18 holes.
Nah, that wasn't me.

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