Erased in Maine: Weather Turns an Almost-59 Into a Never-Was at Maine Open

Mike Van Sickle before a practice round at the Greater Bangor Open. He shot 60 at the event and lost in a playoff to David Chung.
Gary Van Sickle

AUGUSTA, Maine — There’s a sign on the wall in the Bangor Municipal Golf Course’s snack bar quoting Arnold Palmer on the easiest way to knock five shots off your score: “An eraser.”

I noticed that quip last weekend when Mike Van Sickle and I competed in the Greater Bangor Open there. I was in contention for low amateur before tanking in the last round while Mike, my son, shot a course-record 60 in the opening round and ended up in a playoff, losing on the fourth extra hole. David Chung got the win and a $9,000 first prize. Mike won $5,200.

Two days later, an eraser played a big role in Mike’s round. This time, it was Monday’s first round of the Maine Open at Augusta Country Club. (Not that Augusta. Mike actually called ahead to see about a practice round there while we were still in Bangor and after searching for the phone number online, called the wrong Augusta Country Club. “I think you want the one in Maine,” someone named Bryson drawled. “This is the one in Jawja.”)

Monday, Mike made seven birdies in a row in the middle of his round, chipped in for eagle at the par-4 16th hole (he’d hit a drive to the fringe) and was just short of the par-5 18th green in two. If he pitched in, he’d shoot 59. If he got up and down, he’d shoot 60. Course-record territory.

It had been raining for a few holes and by then started coming down hard. Play was stopped by the Maine Golf Association. Mike had the option to finish the hole but, because it was absolutely pouring, thought it would be better to wait. Two hours later at 1:40 p.m., play was suspended and five minutes later, almost mockingly, it stopped raining.

Maine Open play wasn’t just halted. All of the morning scores were erased. Fifteen golfers had already posted 18-hole scores and all of the morning half of the 156-man field had made the turn. The entire day’s golf was curiously tossed aside in favor of a re-start.

Instead of the scheduled 36-hole event, the Maine Open became a 18-hole, one-round sprint. Everyone started over. Officially, Monday at Augusta CC was like a day in Las Vegas. It never happened.

Once they make the decision, it’s like being called out by an umpire. You can argue and you can debate the issue but you’re still going to be out.

Still, I didn’t understand wiping out half a day’s golf. When I’ve been at events that re-started, it’s been when players got through only six or eight holes. This was a two-day event that needed 12 hours of golf per day to finish.

Stranger still, the radar showed the rain was about to end when play was erased. By 4:30 p.m. or 5, the course may have been reasonably playable and as it turned out, the sun came out. Since it’s light enough to golf until at least 7:30 p.m. in Maine on a cloudy day, the rest of the morning wave could’ve finished 18 and the afternoon wave could have gotten in nine holes or so. The next morning, the afternoon wave could’ve finished and the top 40 contenders or so could’ve gone back out in the afternoon to settle things in a second round as originally intended.

Even if it was reduced to an 18-hole tournament, why not just pick up where play left off Tuesday instead of starting completely over? With 156 players to get around 18 holes, the whole tournament depended on a perfect, no-delay day Tuesday. The event couldn’t run into Wednesday because the New Hampshire Open started then and a number of Maine Open contestants were entered in that. A thunderstorm blew through about 9 p.m. Monday night and dropped more rain but luckily the sun was out by morning. Tuesday was a beautiful day and though Augusta CC was puddled and soggy and featured numerous water-filled bunkers, the Maine Golf Association got its drama-less 18 holes in. Andrew Mason won it, then had to drive three-and-a-half hours late Tuesday night to be first off Wednesday morning in the New Hampshire Open. Mike Van Sickle shot 70 and was not a factor.

Here are some of the reasons Maine Golf Association officials gave us for the wash-out erasure instead of any other option:

*The course’s pro and superintendent asked officials not to send the field back out in the afternoon if they didn’t have to because the club has a big member-member tournament this weekend and didn’t want the course damaged when it was so soft. The Maine Open had a $10,000 first prize so it’s kind of a big deal for a bunch of struggling young pros but apparently it’s not bigger than a member-member four days later.

*They couldn’t cut the field, they said, because they had scheduled a 36-hole event and couldn’t change the rules in the middle of the tournament. Making it an 18-hole event by counting Monday’s start and finishing up Tuesday was an option the MGA declined to consider.

*It wasn’t fair to the afternoon players who would’ve had to play at least nine holes in sloppy conditions with puddles in some fairways and bunkers, probably struggling with mud-balls. Restarting the tournament would level the playing field and allow everyone to play lift, clean and place in the second round. After the overnight rain, the course was in no better shape Tuesday morning than it would have been Monday afternoon at 4:30. When did dealing with mud-balls become illegal, by the way? I thought that was a rub-of-the-green part of playing golf. Deal with it.

*A majority of the afternoon wave might not finish nine holes (depending upon the restart time Monday afternoon) and therefore there was no point in trying to play. This goes back to the Maine Golf Association’s refusal/inability to institute a cut in order to get 36 holes in under the circumstances.

We’ve all played in wet conditions with puddles and casual water. As long as there isn’t standing water on the greens, almost any conditions are playable. If one entire fairway was underwater and there was no place to take full relief from casual water, that would be a problem. Was that the case? No one waited to find out.

The Bangor Open folks were so thrilled about Mike’s course-record 60 there that they mounted and framed a copy of his scorecard. That didn’t seem to be the case here. “It’s amazing how many guys tell you ‘Great round!’ once they know it doesn’t count,” Mike said.

Word had gotten out about Mike’s round during the delay. Many players and most of the officials had heard the buzz that he had a chip for 59. After the controversial wash-out, Portland Channel 13 sports director Dave Eid, who’d already shot footage for a tournament report, asked if it was okay for Mike to go back out and finish playing the 18th to see if he could get the 59. After initially rejecting the request, an official relented and Eid set up his camera behind the green to record it.

Mike had a 15-yard pitch over a bunker and the shot he played probably would’ve been good before the rain but with the soft conditions, it splashed and checked up 10 feet short. Mike missed the birdie putt, which he barely lined up on account of he was still upset by the ruling, and tapped in for an imaginary 61.

I’m biased in this case, obviously, but here’s a question someone else asked me: Would the round have been washed out if a Maine pro, not an outsider from Pennsylvania, had a chance to shoot 59 or 60?

It doesn’t matter. Mike had already been called out by the umpire and that wasn’t going to change.

What happens in Maine, stays in Maine. Unless someone decides that it never happened at all.