Unplayable in paradise
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
Scott Stallings weathering the extreme conditions

Scott Stallings weathering the extreme conditions

The 2013 PGA Tour season didn’t exactly start with a bang. Well, depending on how you see it, and actually, it technically hasn’t officially began. Usually–at least in the past two years I’ve covered the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation Course–it’s 80 degrees and sunny with beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean with the wind blowing around 10-15mph and gusts of maybe 20mph.

Not this year, unfortunately. At least not since January 1st when golf in Maui felt more like Scotland. (It was gorgeous last week. I played last Friday and there was virtually NO wind, which was strange, and the sun was almost too hot.)

24 of the 30-player field had teed off on Friday morning before play was suspended. Due to gusts up to 42 mph, sideways rain and balls blowing off greens, PGA Tour officials decided to not only cancel play but completely wipe out the scores and start anew on Saturday morning. That’s right — bizarre, huh?

I didn’t exactly comprehend what was happening at first. Scott Stallings, who was seven-over through 4, was practically doing cartwheels in the clubhouse. He had to repeat himself a few times until I understood what was happening. I thought play had just been suspended for the day and they’d restart from their position when the horn was blown.

Stallings was celebrating the news and laughing about the unusual situation. He was almost in disbelief as he announced, “My quad doesn’t count!”

Asked what the atmosphere was like in the locker room, Stallings said, “I’m stoked, but Webb’s not!”

Webb Simpson was somehow three-under through 7 holes when play was called.

“It stinks for me,” said Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion. “I got off to a great start but that’s the way it goes.  I’m sure they made the decision that’s best for all the guys. But the good news is, had a good start and playing well.

Jonas Blixt also wasn’t thrilled over the decision — he was one-under through five and safely on the 6th green when the horn blew.

“No, not at all,” said Blixt, when I asked if he was relieved he didn’t have to go back out in the awful conditions.

Rickie Fowler hit what was supposed to be the opening tee shot of 2013. He was three-over through eight holes when play was called.

“After the kind of strong winds that came through and the weather, felt like it was a smart decision,” said Fowler in the media center. “Obviously Webb is probably the only one that may be a little bummed.  He obviously was out there playing well and had control of his golf ball.

“I felt like I was playing pretty well up until we had to hit in some crazy weather on 8 and I ended up making double.  Other than that, 1-over par, felt like it was pretty good over seven holes.”

Fowler striped a drive on No. 3, which was playing into the wind, and it went 215 yards. He also hardly asked his caddies for numbers (yardages) on the course due to the crazy conditions.

“It’s more looking at the shot and seeing what the weather is, and just grab a club and pick the flight and hit it,” he said. “Numbers were kind of irrelevant at times.”

Fowler doesn’t mind wind and rain, but he admitted it got a little out of control.

“It’s a lot of fun, especially with the wind, he said. “I think with the kind of rain and changing weather, it was kind of a little much. But just with the wind alone, yeah, it makes it for fun, definitely use imagination.  Like I said, numbers kind of go out the window and kind of just use your imagination, find your way around the course.”

Longtime Kapalua locals claim they’ve never seen weather like this in more than 20 or even 30 years. Golf Channel’s Mark Rolfing said it was the worst he’s experienced in 22 years. No joke.

If you caught any of the telecast, then you may have caught Stalling’s umbrella break or the wind blowing Mark Wilson’s blow three feet, which was “tame.”

The weather was pretty brutal before the players teed off, so why did they start?

“Well, I mean, we thought  we aren’t really looking for these gusts up to 40 miles an hour,” said PGA Tour Rules czar Slugger White.  “We had gusts up to 42 miles an hour.  Was it bad?  Yes, it was bad. But you know, there were times out there where it kind of laid down.  We were on the fifth hole and that’s one of the highest places we have on the golf course, and it was almost — it wasn’t benign, but it was actually not too bad.

“And that’s when we started getting balls rolling on the second hole.  We had a ball that was rolling probably like 25 feet. The first one we had with Mark Wilson that I had on 2 green rolled about a foot and a half, and that’s the first ones that were starting to roll.”

The first round will start over on Saturday, Jan. 5, at 7:30 a.m. HT. Players will start on both Nos. 1 and 10 tees. Officials plan to complete both rounds 1 and 2 on Saturday. Um, good luck with that. Right now the weather is forecast to be even worse tomorrow. Plus, the thought of walking 36 holes at the Plantation Course in similar conditions sounds just about as much fun as getting your wisdom teeth removed without novacaine or anesthesia.

The terrain is extreme because the golf course, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is built on the side of a volcano, which makes the Plantation so unique and interesting.

“Welcome to 2013,” said Fowler, referring to the brutal haul for the caddies. “Right back into the swing of things. Most of the caddies, they are used to looping and I know we are coming off of a little bit of a break, so it might be a little tougher; any of the guys just walking normally.  And if we have any rain gear, umbrellas, bags are going to be heavy.”