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Area PGA event is canceled

Few object to the scrapping of the Tampa Bay Classic, not even those who endured travel nightmares to be here.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001


PALM HARBOR -- They were going through the motions, hitting balls, playing practice rounds. But in truth, those scheduled to compete in the Tampa Bay Classic were not looking forward to playing a golf tournament in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

And now they won't. The PGA Tour, which first announced it would postpone the beginning of the tournament until Friday, decided Wednesday to scrap it altogether. There will be no makeup.

The tour also announced that the American Express Championship in St. Louis, along with Senior PGA Tour and Buy.com events, had been canceled "out of respect for the victims and their families," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

"I'm sure there was a debate, but in these circumstances, you have to do the right thing," PGA Tour player Dave Stockton Jr. said. "In this case, we shouldn't play. We have a ton of tournaments we play each year. It would be really hard to play. We would be playing golf when there's a national day of mourning? That basically ended it right there. I don't think the sponsors were too keen on playing."

Ultimately, Buick, sponsor of the Tampa Bay Classic, and the American Express Co., in conjunction with the PGA Tour, elected to not go on.

The decision was fine with the players, even those who went to great lengths to get here.

France's Jean Van de Velde made a special trip to the United States to play in this tournament. He is due back in France next week for the Trophee Lancome event, a tournament on the PGA European Tour. Charles Howell, Chris Tidland, Willie Wood and Kevin Sutherland took a private plane Tuesday from Oklahoma City and were forced to land in New Orleans. They drove 10 hours to Palm Harbor on Tuesday night.

Ben Crenshaw, taking a private plane from his home in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, was forced to land in Mobile, Ala. From there, he drove to Tallahassee, spent the night, then drove to the course Wednesday, arriving less than an hour before the announcement.

"I struggled with it," said Crenshaw, who with his wife, Julie, is friends with President Bush. "I talked to Julie two or three times (Tuesday). I thought about it all the time. I'm not really fired up to play. I think it's in the back of every player's mind. You're not ready.

"But still, this is y'all's week. There are a lot of people who wanted this to happen in the best way. But we haven't been faced with this before."

Except for weather problems, nobody could remember a PGA Tour event being suspended or canceled going back to the assassination of President Kennedy. Jack Nicklaus recalled that day. He was informed of Kennedy's death while playing in the Cajun Classic Open Invitational in Louisiana. The tournament was suspended for a day, then resumed.

"I think Tim (Finchem), the tour and the sponsors are doing what they believe is appropriate," said Nicklaus, who was in town to watch his son, Gary, compete in the tournament.

The news is a blow to Tampa Bay Classic organizers, who have spent much of the past year planning for the event. Tournament director Gerald Goodman said there would be no ticket refunds because all money goes to five Tampa Bay area charities.

"I had mixed feelings all day," Goodman said. "I kind of wanted to play, maybe as a distraction to try and not think of all the events of the day. But the way the commissioner outlined it, I think the right decision was made."

Finchem had suggested playing the tournament with the players donating the purse to the relief efforts in New York and Washington. Instead, the tour likely will look to do something else.

"We felt it was important to move on, not to forget about what happened," Finchem said. "But we determined that the best course of action is to refrain from playing our normal PGA Tour schedule this week.

"In particular, American Express, our sponsor of the American Express Championship in St. Louis and headquartered in lower Manhattan, has been directly affected by this tragedy. All of our players and staff send our heartfelt condolences and prayers to all victims and their families."

The LPGA Tour decided to play its Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., partly because of the charitable aspect of the tournament, commissioner Ty Votaw said. And, Votaw said, "The LPGA has decided to follow President George W. Bush's admonition to start to get our country back to normal so the healing can begin."

Meanwhile, many players in town for the Classic remained stranded, with no way of leaving until today at the earliest.

One won't ever forget the Tampa Bay Classic, even though it won't be played.

Blaine McAllister, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, had an outing in New Jersey on Monday. Unable to leave Monday night, he scheduled a private plane to take him out of Newark, N.J., at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. He flew right over the World Trade Center on his way to Tampa.

"It was beautiful," he said. "It was one gorgeous morning."

A few hours later, McAllister landed in Tampa, and the world had changed.

NOTES: The Tampa Bay Classic's Birdies for Charity program and TECO Energy Bonus Pool will proceed. Pledges still can be turned into the tournament office by Friday, and a determination for awarding of a Buick Rendezvous to those who made pledges will be announced. For information, call (727) 789-2755.

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