This European Tour playoff under the lights was the coolest finish of the year

November 10, 2019
Turkish Airlines Open

It looked like a fantasyland, which, in a way, it was: three golfers dueling for two million bucks on a floodlit 18th hole, a near-full moon casting yet more light upon the remarkable scene.

The waning moments of the Turkish Airlines Open were unlike any before them in golf. Sure, players have competed for high stakes under floodlights before, but those were exhibitions, larks, silly-season affairs. This conclusion on the Montgomerie Maxx Royal was for a European Tour title, with the winner need to advance through a six-man playoff.

Your protagonists, knotted at 20-under through 72 holes: Kurt Kitayama (United States), Tyrrell Hatton (England), Benjamin Hebert (France), Victor Perez (France) Matthias Schwab (Austria), Erik van Rooyen (South Africa).

Six quickly became three after the first playoff hole, when Schwab, Kitayama and Hatton (courtesy of a chip-in) made birdie on the par-5 18th and the others did not. At that point, with dusk settling in, the remaining trio conferred with European Tour rules official John Paramor to decide whether they would continue under the lights that line the 18th hole. Everyone agreed that they would, setting into the motion the first lighted finish in European Tour history.

The players returned to the 18th tee for the third time, and on this go-around they all made par. The TV commentators in the tower spoke to the challenges of playing under lights — how the hues of the course look different and how judging depth perception becomes more difficult — and how they were surprised that the players had elected to play on.

Beyond the lights, there were the breathtaking stakes: $2 million to the winner, or roughly $1.5 more than the runners-up would take home. Because there would be a five-way tie for second, the second-place payout (a “mere” $430,590) became a fraction of what it would have been had a player finished solo second.

On the second playoff hole, all three players made par, sending the golfers back to the 18th tee for a third time in the playoff and fourth time that day. This time Hatton and Schwab made birdies, while Kitayama, who with a win would become the first Euro Tour rookie to win three times in a single season, was sent packing with a par.

That left Hatton vs. Schwab. The Austrian drained a clutch 20-footer on the third playoff to extend the drama but gave it back on the next hole. With just six feet standing between him and a fifth playoff hole with Hatton, he missed it.

Hatton, who picked up his third European title but first in more than two years, called the win “surreal,” which it was in more ways than one. But he also said that as he grinded under the lights, the winner’s check wasn’t even on his mind.

“You don’t think about the money at all,” he said, “it’s all about pride.”

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