EDISON, N.J. - As the red numbers flowed on the leader board at a softened-up Plainfield CC in the first round of the Barclays, just as much attention, if not more, was being paid to what the potential wrath of Hurricane Irene could do to the first event in the PGA Tour playoffs.
In the 1987 U.S. Women's Open at Plainfield, weather problems forced the championship to a Tuesday conclusion. That type of timetable isn't out of the question for the Barclays, which could also finish on any one of three days preceding Tuesday, depending on how severe the weather turns out to be and how the PGA Tour decides to handle the unfortunate curve ball.
PGA Tour tournament director Slugger White briefed reporters late Thursday afternoon. The only certainty is that, owing to a lack of daylight and a dodgy forecast for Saturday afternoon, the tour has ruled out trying to play 36 holes Saturday and finish the tournament prior to the arrival of Irene's full fury.
"We'll make a determination on what we are going to do tomorrow [Friday] afternoon," White said. "I really don't want to paint myself in a corner right now. There are a lot of scenarios."
According to tour regulations a Tuesday finish is an option only if half the field has finished 72 holes by Monday night. Barring that, a Tuesday wrap-up would have to be mandated by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
"Then the commissioner would have to step in and override the regulation," White said. "He's the only one that could do that unilaterally. So I've got him on fast dial right now."
While the various scenarios are being considered, tournament officials will begin making alterations at Plainfield out of safety concerns. Mesh netting on towers and grandstands will be removed to make those structures less susceptible to high winds. Scoreboards may be taken down. "We don't need one of them landing in somebody's yard that borders the golf course," White said, cognizant of a Honda Class in south Florida. "We had stuff that was just blowing around, and it was very, very dangerous," White said. "We are not going to take that chance, I can guarantee you."
The sober assessment was in line with the state of emergency issued Thursday by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who urged coastal residents to evacuate within 24 hours and warned inland residents that the storm could bring flooding to a state already innudated by rain recently. "We are not overreacting, we need to be ready for this," Christie said, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
Because of how much rain the Garden State has already received in recent weeks, rivers are already running above normal and the ground is saturated, making trees more vulnerable to being toppled by strong winds. White said Plainfield CC received 13 inches of rain last week, and several low-lying holes on the back nine of the Donald Ross-designed course are very wet.
"I would say 16 of the holes are fine and could probably take more [rain], but 13 and 14, I don't know how much more those greens can take," said Harrison Frazar, who shot seven-under 64 to take the lead among the morning starters who had finished the rain-delayed first round. "That creek in there can get up pretty quickly. I think that's the question mark."
If Irene dumps the amount of rain that is possible out of a hurricane or tropical storm, there may not be any questions.
"If we get five or seven inches of rain," White said, "we are probably dead in the water."
Being the low man after 54 holes is probably a very good idea.
-- Bill Fields