Commentary

Hard to find a groove at Bethpage Black

Originally Published: June 20, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- As the Umbrella Open trudges along, now three weeks … uh, three days into our stay on Long Island, we have come to really appreciate meteorologists, agronomists and psychologists.

The weather experts and grounds crew have had to work overtime here at the Black, which describes not only the name of the Bethpage venue but also the skies overhead.

But it is the sports psychologists employed by numerous golfers who should be charging double time this week at the 109th U.S. Open.

How else do you cope with the myriad issues presented here?

[+] EnlargeU.S. Open
Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesOf the 60 golfers to make the cut at the 109th U.S. Open, only 44 of them actually teed off in the third round Saturday night when heavy rain halted play.

Bad weather, brutal golf course, starts, stops … it adds up to a long, frustrating existence, even if you think the best golfers in the world have it pretty good.

"It throws you off your rhythm," said Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, playing in his first U.S. Open. "I know everyone says just take it one hole at a time, but you really do in these circumstances, because you don't know how many holes you're going to get. I've played six holes today, and I might only play six holes. I didn't play any on Thursday. I played 30 yesterday.

"So you sort of really don't know. I might go out today; I might not. You've just got to do whatever you can do to feel prepared, and you have to be ready to go out and play when you're asked."

As it turned out, McIlroy -- who declared he was going back to his accommodations "just to chill out" because he had such a quick turnaround from Friday night to Saturday morning -- got a 5:46 p.m. ET tee time for the third round. He completed five holes before rain suspended play Saturday night.

The doom-and-gloom weather forecast proved to be just another shot in the rough. Al Roker was in the NBC broadcast booth providing updates, but he was about as accurate as Ernie Els -- who missed the cut of 4 over by 11 shots.

The bad stuff was supposed to roll in around noon, then 2 p.m., then 4 p.m. Although it threatened early in the day, the rains finally came around 7 p.m.

So there were certainly a few players who completed their second rounds Saturday morning who might have figured they were done for the day. "Sure doesn't sound like it," David Duval said after finishing well before noon when asked whether he thought he'd play any more Saturday.

Duval proved to be right, but barely. His 7:06 p.m. tee came just after play was suspended. He was surprisingly tied for fourth, just 5 shots back of another pool buster, Ricky Barnes, who set the U.S. Open 36-hole scoring record of 132. Barnes never hit a shot during the third round.

"It's not ideal, but it is what it is, and you just -- you play when you're told to play, and you do your best to be fully prepared and mentally ready," Duval said.

With more rain expected to fall Saturday night and into Sunday and the area under a flood watch, it remains impossible to predict how all this will play out. Do they get the championship decided Sunday? Maybe just part of it, necessitating a Monday finish? Or could a good bit be washed out Sunday, meaning a marathon Monday?

The best way to deal with it? Don't worry, be happy.

"We've done it before," said Tiger Woods, the defending champion who found himself 11 strokes out of the lead after playing one hole of the third round. "We've played so many years out here on tour. It is what it is. It rains. You're called off. You're pulled back in. You get ready, go back out. No lightning, I think we'll continue playing."

So which is more eyebrow-raising, Tiger's falling 11 behind, or the guy he trails by that much, Barnes?

Woods has not played that poorly, but his four-hole stretch to complete the first round -- when he went double-bogey, bogey, par, bogey -- is what separates him from a realistic shot of winning his fourth U.S. Open to having to almost ask for a miracle.

Lou Graham overcame an 11-shot, 36-hole deficit in 1975 at Medinah, where he defeated John Mahaffey in a playoff. So it's possible, certainly. Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion, has not so much as sniffed contention in his rookie year on the PGA Tour and is no lock to finish this off. Neither is Lucas Glover, Peter Hanson, Duval or Azuma Yano, a Japan Tour player competing in his first U.S. Open.

The list of guys leading the U.S. Open is only slightly less bizarre than this weather deal and all the mental challenges it has presented.

"I'm amazed we've got a full round of golf in today," said Lee Westwood, who began the third round just 6 shots back and didn't complete a hole in the third round. "I thought the weather forecast was looking pretty dicey, and probably still is.

"So fingers crossed, get a few holes in tonight and maybe get finished Sunday night. But if it all goes into Monday, it goes into Monday. Just about everything has been thrown at us this week, so why not a Monday finish, too?"

Why not?

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com