Commentary

Colliding circumstances doomed Viking

Originally Published: November 2, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The sun was out in Madison, Miss., a seemingly beautiful day for golf. Randy Watkins could only wish it had come out sooner, for longer, and did a better job of drying out a saturated golf course still unfit for play on Monday.

Golf fans in Mississippi were denied their annual PGA Tour stop, and players desperately in need of the money earnings that determine the fate of their careers were left without a place to play.

[+] EnlargeViking Classic
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisNo matter how much work the grounds crew put into trying to get the course ready for the Viking Classic, there was just no place for all the rain to drain.

They cancelled the tournament Saturday, and Watkins -- the Viking Classic tournament director -- was left to pick up the pieces from an event that never saw a ball struck.

"We made the very, very best of a horrible situation," Watkins said.

Heavy rain had saturated the Annandale Golf Club course prior to tournament week, and when more rain pounded the area on the eve of the tournament, both the first and second rounds had to be postponed.

When it rained again on Friday night -- dumping 1.75 inches on the venue -- it became clear that the course could not be made ready to play.

The tournament was called off with no make-up date scheduled and $3.6 million in prize money left on the table.

A possible two-year exemption for the player who won the tournament was forfeited; money earnings that could have helped a player move into the top 125 and be exempt for next year were washed away; the ability to even play your way into the top 150 and avoid the second stage of Q-school was also lost for some.

But if you think the decision to abandon the event was made too quickly, that was far from the case.

"It kept us up at night," said Rick George, executive vice president and chief of operations for the PGA Tour. "We know how important it is to the players. We've got two events left, guys trying to gain on their position, guys trying to protect. ...

"We looked at every option. We spoke to as many people as we could. Trust me, there was an unbelievable amount of deliberation on every possible situation you could think of. It is a daunting task to try and recreate an event in four or five days."

So the move was made to pull the plug, leaving players such as David Duval -- who is 125th on the money list -- with just one more event, the Children's Miracle Network Classic, to retain his playing privileges for next year. Rickie Fowler, who was making an amazing run in his first two events as a pro, now has just one -- instead of two -- events to do the improbable: secure his PGA Tour card through money earnings.

It also left golf fans -- both on television and in person -- without a tournament to watch, meaning local Mississippi charities will miss out on donations they might have seen come their way.

At least there is a ray of sunshine there. Watkins said the tournament utilizes a popular "Birdies for Charities" program in which local charities solicit pledges from donors based on the number of birdies made in the tournament.

But as part of the deal, any tournament day wiped out gets a standard 500 birdies for Thursday and Friday, with 300 for Saturday and Sunday. So that's at least 1,600 birdies (the pro-am counts, too) for pledges to be collected on and distributed.

Both Watkins and George agreed that the hurdles were too high as far as staging the golf tournament.

"We're not financially capable of doing it," Watkins said. "But at least part of the show went on. We had all of our culinary shows [Viking manufactures professional and commercial-type kitchen appliances for the home]. All of our celebrities still participated. We kept the trophy suites open and people were in them watching college football on Saturday. It was standing room only. We did the best we could."

George said he asked for PGA Tour Policy Board approval to extend the event beyond Monday -- which is required as part of the tour's bylaws. Commissioner Tim Finchem considered waiving the tour's rules which prohibit a 36-hole event -- which would mean the winner was unofficial but the prize money would count.

"We tried to do everything we could to get the event in," George said. "We talked with everybody. In our best estimation, the golf course could potentially be ready by the latter part of the week. And there was potential for additional rainfall.

"Then we took into consideration the logistical issues. All the vendors. All the tent people. Is Annandale available to us? You've got volunteers, TV, their ability to broadcast. Do the trucks go someplace else and come back? Then you have to get more hotel rooms. Would the players stay? Come back?"

And this is where PGA Tour players ought to take notice and see just how fortunate they are to play for millions of dollars week after week.

This is just the third time in the PGA Tour's history that an event has been canceled and not replayed (the others were the 1949 Colonial and 1996 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), which means the show has almost always gone on.

Nearly a year's worth of planning goes into these tournaments -- which, by the way, only have a portion of the purse funded by the PGA Tour (the rest comes from the title sponsor). Typically it is a local nonprofit organization that runs the tournaments, sells tickets and sponsorships, pays for the infrastructure, recruits volunteers and pulls the thing off. The PGA Tour puts a heavy load on these local groups.

And it is not cheap. Watkins says the Viking Classic pays a "six-figure" rental fee to Annandale for use of the course, with the contract running through Tuesday. And because the tournament was set up and ready to go, Watkins still will have bills to pay to various vendors. (George said that the Viking Range Corp. would get its portion of the purse money back.)

Although the idea of playing this weekend was discussed, the cost to a nonprofit organization was prohibitive. The idea of playing the weekend following the Children's Miracle Network Classic was also considered, but then you run into scheduling issues with the second stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.

"Many of those players would be playing [at Q-school] and that's just not equitable," George said.

For what it's worth, Watkins said he did not get a single complaint from any player.

"I can't say I talked to 132 players, but I talked to a vast majority in some form or fashion," he said. "And not only were they understanding, but supportive and encouraging and helpful."

Bad breaks happen all the time in golf, so perhaps the players can deal with it better than anyone.

And this, certainly, was a bad break.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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