PGA Tour officials have been forced to explain why tee times were not adjusted for forecasted storms after lightning resulted in five fans being taken to hospital in the third round of the Tour Championship.
Two strikes hit the East Lake course in Atlanta at 4.45pm on Saturday, 28 minutes after the horn had been blown. Four were injured taking cover under a tree on the 16th that was struck. Emergency personnel treated six spectators, with one allowed to return home, before the rest were transported to the Grady Memorial Hospital. All were released yesterday.
The forecast had predicted a 50 to 60 per cent chance of storms between 3pm and 6pm, but the Tour elected not to move up the start for the 30-strong field. Even some of the top players conceded that the Tour might have been more cautious and ensured play was already finished by the time the accident occurred at the season-finale boasting a first prize of $15 million (£12 million).
“Absolutely we should have [moved up tee-times], but the Tour has been doing this a long time and has made a lot of great decisions,” Matt Kuchar, the world No 19, said. “This is a tricky one. I have a lot of faith in the Tour and their decision-making process.”
Mark Russell, the vice-president for rules and competition, explained the Tour’s reasoning. “We had a situation where they were pop-up thunderstorms. We can monitor that. And a lot of times we get lucky and we don’t get hit with thunderstorms, especially when it’s a situation when they’re pop-ups like that,” Russell said.
“I think if we did that every time we had a possibility of thunderstorms in the south-east [of the United States], we’d do that basically every time we played golf.”
Tyler Dennis, the senior vice-president of competitions, added: “Safety is a huge priority for us.”
This is not the first time the Tour have come under scrutiny following a lightning strike. Professional tournaments became far more vigilant about stopping play in the early 1990s after two spectators were killed at separate majors in the same year. One man was killed at the US Open at Hazeltine in Minnesota in 1991 and another at the US PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. Yet while players and caddies are loaded into vehicles and taken back to the clubhouse, fans are left to seek their own shelter.
On the Ladies European Tour, an emotional Carly Booth won her first title in seven years at the Czech Women’s Open. The Scot shot a 70 to finish on nine under to finish a shot clear of a group including England’s Charlotte Thompson and Hayley Davis.
At the Scandinavian Invitation on the European Tour, South African Erik van Rooyen carded a closing 64 in Gothenburg to finish 19 under to deny England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who also shot a 64, by a shot.