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Playoff format joins century

  • Brooks Koepka hits from the rough on the eighth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2019, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt York)



Newsday
Sunday, June 16, 2019

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The U.S. Golf Association finally has joined the rest of humanity in the view that Mondays are just worth skipping. The USGA has done away with its signature 18-hole Monday playoff and, like everyone else in the sport, chosen to end its biggest tournament on a Sunday.

The official tiebreaker for the U.S. Open is a two-hole tiebreaker, to be held on Sunday evening, immediately after the regulation fourth round ends.

It was a marked departure and a tough choice for the many traditionalists inside and out of the USGA, who never had bought into the “Blue Monday” theme. But the thought was that the time was right to get with the times. The USGA announced the switch early in 2018 after lots of consultation with everyone involved with the tournament, not the least of which was the television contingent.

Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA, announced early last year that pretty much everyone the association spoke with expressed a preference for reaching a conclusion on Sunday, which is what every other tournament does, particularly the major championships.

In announcing the decision last February, Davis — formerly a strong proponent of a Monday 18-hole playoff — said, “There is no right or wrong way to determine a winner in stroke play, but we’ve seen over the years how the aggregate playoff has served us well in both the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open. Two holes will allow a player to recover from any single mistake and, at the same time, provide a memorable, and perhaps dramatic, experience for all involved.”

For years, the prevailing sentiment at the USGA was that a full 18-hole round was the fairest and most definitive way to determine a champion when two or more players were tied after 72 holes. That still is a valid argument.

“There was a time when they did make sense before television, before the modern era of wanting everything decided immediately,” Davis said, mindful that there have been 33 U.S. Open playoffs, all of which have been decided in 18 holes or more.

An 18-hole playoff can be dramatic, as witnessed by the Monday meeting in 2008 between Tiger Woods (playing on a broken leg, it was later announced) and Rocco Mediate. They had to go to a 19th hole before Woods won.

But in many cases, the playoff round on Monday proved anticlimactic. Golfers squaring off for one of the most prestigious titles in the sport often played in front of small crowds and minuscule television audiences. Worse yet, players had to contend with workers tearing down scoreboards and other temporary structures.

The USGA switched the playoff for the U.S. Women’s Open from 18 holes to three after Annika Sorenstam routed a worn-out Pat Hurst in 2006. Davis said that the association had difficulty justifying keeping the men’s playoff at 18 after streamlining the tiebreaker for the women.

By choosing the two-hole format, the USGA staked out a distinctive niche among majors. The Masters uses sudden death, the PGA Championship has a three-hole aggregate and the British Open has a four-hole playoff.

In any case, it was a marked departure for the U.S. Open, which had quite a history of long playoffs. Among those was one that was pertinent this week. Willie Anderson, whose name took on prominence because Brooks Koepka was trying to match his feat of winning three consecutive Opens, began his streak of three in a row with a playoff victory over David Brown in 1903.