In the annals of professional golf, the short-lived Pennsylvania Classic was barely a tip on the radar, only existed for seven years with a number of title sponsors, took place in multiple venues, and was largely won over by a number of passers-by in the ranks of the PGA Tour. Apart from a year – and we’re not talking about the 2006 edition with Michelle Wie – the tournament was unforgettable.
But this one year is of the essence. In fact, it could be argued that the issue in question holds a special place in the history of golf and touring.
The 2001 Marconi Pennsylvania Classic at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, held September 20-23, was the first tournament since the September 11th terrorist attacks. The location of the club was a gloomy coincidence on this occasion. Laurel Valley is about 40 miles west of Shanksville, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after passengers thwarted the hijackers’ attempt to crash the Boeing 747 into the Capitol. Members of the club said they watched in stunned confusion as the giant airship flew over the course that day, perhaps no more than 3,000 feet above them.
The tournament was hosted by club founder Arnold Palmer, who added even more urgency. Palmer, then 72 years old, was a pilot for more than 40 years and couldn’t keep his voice from breaking when he thought of the battle for the plane that was raging in the cockpit, the horror of those moments. “I can imagine a man pushing the yoke forward, and I have to believe that’s what happened,” he said, fighting his feelings. “I know pilots and I know what they stand for and I know how they think. … Just the thought that a man is sitting in the cockpit and being shot or taken to the rear and has to do what someone tells him is the most terrible thing that can happen to a pilot to lose his plane. “
In the wake of the attacks, the tour had canceled the WGC American Express Championship in St. Louis and the Tampa Bay Classic, both of which were due to begin on September 13th. Three days later, the PGA of America announced the postponement of the 34th Ryder. known cup in England until autumn 2002.
Although commercial air travel resumed after a few days with stricter security measures, many of the 158 players in the field traveled to Pennsylvania when they did not have private or charter aircraft options. The drive from Columbus, Ohio to Ligonier takes about three hours, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew the national call for a return to “normal” had to include coverage of a golf event that was trying To put pressure through the fog of anger, sadness, disbelief and insecurity.
It still sticks in my mind when I got to the site that first day of Fred Funk’s wife Sharon painting American flags on the golf bags of any player who asked for it. Each of the 18 flagpoles was also adorned with American flags.
I remember Scott Verplank told me that when he heard the news of the attack, he hopped over to his spare car at the Bellerive Country Club and drove straight from St. Louis to Edmond, Oklahoma to be with his wife and children. Should there be further acts of violence or even the outbreak of war, he said, “I wanted to be in the only place with the only people I would like to be with in the end.”
This feeling was certainly understandable.
“The tragedy caused all of us to reflect and evaluate our own lives and our relationships with family and friends,” said Curtis Strange, captain of the US Ryder Cup team.
Some players wondered if it wasn’t too early to get back on the golf course, but there they were all the same, dealing with the weakness of their emotions. Only one top 10 player graced the field; No wonder it was the relentless Vijay Singh. Also in attendance were six Ryder Cup team members.
“I think everyone is ready to do something,” said Rocco Mediate, a Pennsylvania native who finished second this week.
The Australian Robert Allenby with a total of 19 under 269 won the event by three strokes ahead of Mediate and Larry Mize, who celebrated his 43rd birthday this Sunday. But the four days of golf were a sodden blur, the spins of tournament golf merged with the evolving matrix of a country sad and angry and unsafe while the world stood on the brink.
The competition began at 7:20 p.m. ET. But dark clouds were gathering. The tour had planned to pause the game for seven minutes from noon for a moment of silence and a brief ceremony that would include playing the national anthem and God Bless America, but the program had to be canceled as bad weather forced a suspension from more than four hours.
Nick Price, the leader of the first round with 66 and only 81 players to finish the game, said the general mood was sometimes as damp as the sky. “You can hear the people in the gallery. … you hear people talking about what’s going to happen next. This is a very uncertain time for this country and for the western world because I think whatever is done now could affect us for the next eight, 10, 15, 20 years. “
And here we are, 20 years later.
Due to the rain on Thursday and the morning fog for the next two days, the tournament never went according to plan again, but ended on Sunday under the first sunny sky of the week. Many short nights for players after many sleepless nights. The only constant was showing national pride and patriotism. Players, caddies and some tour officials wore hats adorned with the American flag and the words “United We Stand”.
Allenby, 30, tried not to feel guilty about not feeling guilty about the victory and the extra work and focus he put into reaching it, but he admitted that as soon as he got there every day came from the golf course, returned to his hotel room and immediately turned on the news “to see if anything else happened.” As with many players, the opportunity to play golf was a welcome distraction. And yet it has not always worked out that way.
“We all want to get on with our lives, but there are only certain things right now that just don’t seem important,” he said.
It was Palmer who put the week in perspective, even before the first shot was fired. America needed healing. Perhaps golf, along with sports and other activities, could speed up that process, but not at the expense of the bigger picture now filled with an unease that probably hadn’t gripped the nation since the height of the Cold War.
“Well, you know, this is America and we have to go ahead with our activities and that includes golf tournaments, soccer games, baseball games,” he said. “The only worry I might have with anything we’re talking about is that we won’t forget what happened.”