European Tour flips switch in a game-changing move that illuminates the golf course to avert a Monday finish but clouds the ultimate result
BELEK, TURKEY – The four-hole playoff at the Turkish Airlines Open was sensational.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton tapped in for par and won a six-man playoff in a surreal finish late Sunday at Montgomerie Maxx Royal as daylight yielded to a full moon on the Mediterranean Coast (scores).
Would I like to see a 72-hole stroke-play event under the lights? Maybe.
What I don’t like is changing the competition in midstream.
For 74 holes, the winner of the European Tour event was being determined under bright skies, until the sunlight gave way to the darkness and then the competition continued under artificial light.
After the first two holes of the playoff eliminated Benjamin Hebert, Victor Perez and Erik Van Rooyen, the players still eligible – Kurt Kitayama, Matthias Schwab and Hatton – were asked whether they would be willing to continue under the lights or return Monday morning.
All agreed to play on, but at that moment the tournament conditions had changed, and I maintain that the event lost its inherent fairness.
Playing under lights is a totally different experience than playing in sunlight. Depth perception is different in daylight versus night, and the ability to ready greens – speed and break alike – proves to be more difficult.
And what should tour officials really expect when asking three players whether they want to finish? It’s like being asked whether you want the dentist to finish filling your cavity now or go home and come back tomorrow.
“Yes” is the only answer, and then you are stuck.
The lights, which are set up for resort play, also are focused on the fairway, not the rough, making the experience problematic for a professional championship.
The decision to play under the lights was done merely for expediency. A charter flight was waiting to take a majority of the players and staff to the next event, this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa. Kitayama was the only one of the three remaining playoff contestants who was booked on the flight.
Of course, TV officials want the event to finish. Keeping a crew onsite for an extra day and then showing the event on Monday morning raises production costs and diminishes the excitement generated by the energy of the Sunday playoff.
Yet, playing under the lights was new and exciting, so the decision to move forward was made.
However, Kitayama and Schwab, in hindsight, might disagree with the decision.
Schwab was over the green in two, but a chip across the green, a chip past the hole and then a missed putt equated to a bogey 6.
Was that fatigue or Schwab’s struggle to read both chips and then the green on a short par putt?
Purses in the world of professional golf have grown so large, and Hatton walked away with $2 million for his victory. Should his fate be left to chance that his night vision is better than his playing competitors’?
It’s easy to say how important it was to finish the tournament on Sunday, with everyone – from TV staff to the European Tour workers to the players – wanting the event completed, but was it fair?
Ultimately, that should be the determining factor: Is the competition fair?
This week, another big event on the European Tour’s Rolex Series will make a multimillionaire of a winner, with $2.5 million going to the champion of the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Thankfully, no lights exist at Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.
But it doesn’t alter the fact that the competition changed after 74 holes, and the change was inequitable.