Commentary

Time to man up at U.S. Open

Originally Published: June 18, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Bishop: "Well, what do you think, fella?"
Carl Spackler: "I'd keep playing. I don't think the heavy stuff's going to come down for quite a while."

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- I've played in worse. You've played in worse. The bishop in "Caddyshack" definitely played in worse.

Yes, there is that small matter of him getting fried by lighting, but there wasn't any of the bolty stuff Thursday here at Bethpage Black. There was only rain. Cool, refreshing, invigorating rain.

[+] EnlargeAngel Cabrera
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesAngel Cabrera slashed and sloshed his way through only six holes on Thursday at Bethpage Black in the 109th U.S. Open.

Of course, that didn't stop the USGA from pulling the sink stopper on the first round of the U.S. Open. It suspended play at 10:15 a.m. ET Thursday and then for good at 1:55 p.m. ET. Huh? Because of a little water?

I've played when it rained sideways, when it rained cats, dogs and ponies. I've played when the wind was so vicious that a flag pin bent over backward like a Russian gymnast and then flew out of the cup. I've played with paper towels wrapped around my club grips.

"You pay, you're going to try to finish, no matter what," said Pete Klyap.

Pete who? Pete Klyap of nearby Deer Park, N.Y., that's who. Klyap stood semi-soaked near the Bethpage clubhouse with his buddy James Oppedisano. He wore a Mets ballcap, his shoes were a muddy mess and his umbrella was hanging on for dear life. His $100 Thursday pass dangled from a lanyard.

"We heard they were going to start again at 1:30, but that's come and gone," said Klyap, who has lived on Long Island for 35 years and plays Bethpage a couple of times a season.

"We saw one guy tap in," said Oppedisano, who was wearing a Notre Dame poncho. "That's it."

Then came the USGA air horn and that was it for what turned out to be the rest of the day. No more golf.

Klyap had played in downpours harder than this one, though he admitted, "This is definitely the worse I've seen in quite a while."

And yet, he and Oppedisano were going to give it another 30 minutes, just in case the USGA changed its mind. So they stood in the rain under a battered umbrella and waited. That's what real golfers do. They never think the heavy stuff is going to come down.

Right now I've got 100 percent recycled napkins stuffed in my shoes. My waterlogged socks are hanging from a modem cord underneath my work station in the media center. My khaki shorts will need weeks to dry. But I would have kept playing. No lightning, no calling it quits.

The USGA felt otherwise. Wusses.

"It was the putting greens that just became unplayable," said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions.

Granted, there was an itsy-bitsy amount of moisture on the greens as the rains continued. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw Michael Phelps swimming laps on the No. 2 green.

But it happens, right? We've all played on greens where your golf ball needs a snorkel and flippers. We've putted through standing water with whitecaps. And unlike Tiger Woods and the fellas playing here Thursday, we didn't have a crew of workers armed with squeegees and the super-sized squeegees called "water hogs" stationed at every green. You and me? We cojone-up, hit the putt and take our chances.

"The volume of rain falling was outpassing our ability to squeegee the greens," said Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA's executive committee.

Volume, shmolume. The fairways, for the most part, were in decent shape. There was some standing water in the bunkers, but nothing horrible. OK, the greens were doing the Jacques Cousteau thing, but it was going to be the same for everyone.

"It's only going to get worse, but we will see what happens," said Paul Casey of the weather forecast. Casey played five holes before hearing the horn.

I don't get it. No matter how swampy and soggy the fairways get, the USGA is not going to allow the players to lift, clean and place if their golf balls become mud clumps. Fair enough. But it will allow squeegees on the greens and eventually call it quits for the day because of rooster-tail putts?

"We would have played longer in Scotland, but I think eventually with the rain as torrential as it's been today, we would have had to come off as well," said longtime golf columnist John Huggan, who is covering the Open for Scotland on Sunday and Golf World.

How disappointing. Of all the people who I thought would have gutted it out, Huggan the Scot is the guy I would have picked to play all 18 -- rain, shine or puddles.

"Nah," he said. "We would have played longer, that's all I can tell you."

I walk over to the practice green. Walking down a nearby cart path is a man holding an industrial-sized umbrella, like the kind the players or club reps use.

"Excuse me, are you a New Yorker?" I said clumsily.

Not only was he a New Yorker, but he was a golf professional who has tried to qualify for the Open 18 times. His name is Paul Clemente and he said he never made it out of the local qualifier.

He handed me his business card. It says he holds the course record (65) at Charleston Springs South in Millstone, N.J. In the bottom left corner of the card it says, "I'll change your 'fore' to a 'four.'"

A slimy, well-chewed unlit cigar hung from his mouth. He flicked it to the ground. This guy, as blue-collar as they come and a 50-round veteran of Bethpage Black, would have to be on my side of the play-in-the-rain fence.

He teased me.

"You play as long as there's not lightning ..."

All right!

"... and standing water," he said. "There's puddles on the greens and some of these greens are totally underwater, so it becomes unplayable."

Drats.

We had about 1½ inches of rain Thursday. Rain is forecast for Friday, even more on Saturday, followed by rain on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and possibly infinity.

"... The USGA is firm on this, that we will not determine a national champion until we play 72 holes," said Hyler.

They played as many as 11 holes Thursday. It should have been more.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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