Should the 18-hole play-off be retired?

Annika Sorenstam was so tired from playing 54 holes in two days that she took Tuesday off after winning the US Women’s Open. Pat Hurst was exhausted before she got to the first tee for the 18-hole play-off, and that was after a night of rest.

Imagine how Billy Burke and George Von Elm must have felt.

It was 75 years ago when they engaged in the longest play-off in golf history at the 1931 US Open. They were tied after 72 holes of regulation, the final 36 holes in one day.

There was a 36-hole play-off the next day, and both men shot 7-over 149.
So they came back for a fifth day for 36 more holes, and Burke shot 148 to win by a single shot at Inverness.

Under those guidelines, Sorenstam got off easy.

The US Golf Association is the only golf organisation which still believes an 18-hole play-off is the fairest measure of a champion.

But if that’s such a fair test, why did it ever change from 36 holes? And what keeps the USGA from getting with the times and changing to a four-hole play-off (British Open), a three-hole play-off (US PGA Championship) or a sudden-death play-off (Masters)?

Not even the winner at Newport Country Club liked the idea of 18 holes.

“I think maybe a three-hole play-off would have been a little better, especially when all the excitement and adrenaline was there last night with all the people,” Sorenstam said.

“You work so hard, and then we leave Sunday and we still don’t know who won. It’s kind of funny how that all works out. It makes for a long week, that’s for sure. You would think that you could determine a winner within 75 holes.”

Hurst, a 37-year-old mother of two, offered either a three-hole or a six-hole solution.

She matched Sorenstam shot for shot over Sunday’s 36 holes, playing her best golf—a final-round 69, matching the lowest score of the tournament. What killed her was getting some rest before the Monday play-off.

“The competitive juices weren’t flowing as much as they were yesterday,” Hurst said. “You’re in the moment. I felt like I lost a little bit coming back out the next day. I wasn’t into it as much as I was into it yesterday.”

But why did Hurst and Sorenstam need 18 more holes on Monday anyway?

And if sudden-death is such a sham, why does the USGA use that in case of a tie after the 18-hole play-off? Why get away from the marathon match 75 years ago between Burke and Von Elm? The other organisations wised up.

The Royal & Ancient gave up on the 36-hole play-off in time for Jack Nicklaus to beat Doug Sanders over 18 holes (72-73) in 1970 at St Andrews. Then the R&A really went outside the box, introducing a four-hole aggregate play-off in 1989, won by Mark Calcavecchia at Royal Troon. Were they lesser champions because they didn’t play 36 holes?

One could argue that Greg Norman might have won in 1989 if he had 18 holes instead of four, but an argument could be made just as easily that the Shark still would have found calamity waiting for him at the end.

The US PGA Championship used to have an 18-hole play-off after it changed to stroke play in 1958, and it was the first of the men’s majors to switch to sudden-death in 1977 when Lanny Wadkins won at Pebble Beach. Then it copied the R&A by going to a three-hole play-off in 2000, when Tiger Woods defeated Bob May.

The Masters switched to a sudden-death play-off and is sticking to it, although wouldn’t it be sweet to see a three-hole play-off over Amen Corner—a par 4, par 3 and a par 5?

As for those who believe anything but 18-hole playoffs can produce fluke champions, explain Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan in 1955 at the Olympic Club.

There’s no reason for the USGA not to change, especially since it has gone from an 18-hole play-off to a 36-hole playoff to an 18-hole playoff during its 111 years of championship golf.

And there’s nothing in the rules of golf that spells out how to crown a champion. Only that the lowest score wins. ‒ Sapa-AP

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