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They'll Keep Playing Until War Breaks Out

March 13, 2003|THOMAS BONK

Here is the complete entry list of U.S. players for last week's European Tour event at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates: Mark O'Meara.

Here is the complete entry list of U.S. players for this week's European Tour event at Doha in Qatar: Nobody.

It's all a matter of, well, geography. Sort of, anyway. It's 862 miles from Dubai to Baghdad and 700 miles from Doha to Baghdad. Meanwhile, it's 75 miles from Miami to Palm Beach Gardens, where the PGA Tour is following its normal business pattern this week, which would be week to week, city to city, tournament to tournament, business as usual.

Sort of, anyway.

On the surface, golfers on the U.S. tour aren't going to do anything differently when they tee it up at the Honda Classic. It's still all fairways and greens and then hit the practice range before dark. Somebody rev up the courtesy car and let's go eat.

There might be war coming, possibly sooner rather than later, but unless something unexpected happens, the pro golf show must go on, just like Broadway. But that doesn't mean the brain trust at PGA Tour headquarters in Florida hasn't been on alert.

It's just that at this point, according to the insiders making the decisions, there aren't any contingency plans if war breaks out between the U.S. and Iraq.

The PGA Tour offers no advice to players thinking about traveling abroad to play and neither have there been any directives from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. As a result, the tour believes it has no reason to suspend its regular tournament schedule in the event of war. Unless ...

Unless there's compelling evidence that the tournaments should be interrupted. Or postponed. Or canceled. Unless there's specific evidence of a credible threat.

In the interim, everything else is speculation, those inside tour headquarters say. The same philosophy holds true for the LPGA, which begins its season this week in Tucson. Like the PGA Tour decision-makers, those at the LPGA are walking the path of convention. That is, carry on, play golf, unless something forces you to change your mind.

Meanwhile, at Doha, the scene and mind-set are entirely different.

Darren Clarke, Nick Faldo, Lee Westwood, Seve Ballesteros and previous winners at Doha such as Adam Scott, Paul Lawrie and Andrew Coltart are European Tour headliners. They are also among the more than 50 players who have pulled out of the tournament rather than risk what might happen if war breaks out while they are there. It might have helped them make their decisions when the foreign offices of England and Germany issued a citizens' advisory against visiting Qatar.

European Tour officials are saying nothing on the record. A tour insider in Doha says the plan is to avoid commenting on anything hypothetical. At the same time, there is enhanced security around the perimeter of Doha Golf Club and at the official hotels, which might not be especially visible but still is in place. Officials in Qatar insist such security isn't necessary, but it's being carried out nonetheless, if only to reassure the players, and there is a full field of 150 of them.

As for the PGA Tour, the business model is to run a golf tournament each week on its three tours, including the Champions Tour and the Nationwide Tour. If something associated with a war changes that, the options are three: suspend, postpone, reschedule.

Is it likely that such a decision will have to be made? No one has that answer, but PGA Tour insiders point to a factor that makes them feel better on the home front. They feel their tournaments are already safe havens, principally due to the heightened security measures put into practice after the events of Sept. 11.

After that tragic day, the PGA Tour took swift action, canceling its American Express Championship at St. Louis and the tournaments on the Senior Tour and Buy.com Tour. The LPGA wound up canceling its tournament as well.

On the inside at the PGA Tour, the thinking goes this way: If there is a U.S.-Iraq war, it may be similar to the Kuwait conflict 12 years ago when sports in the U.S. were unaffected. If there is a U.S.-Iraq war, it would not be like Sept. 11, a direct attack on Americans on U.S. soil, followed by a national period of mourning.

And so it goes for the week, at leafy Palm Beach Gardens, where $5 million is at stake, not life and death. It is where the Tour will go ahead and play its regularly scheduled tournament, the same way it always does ... while exercising all due prudence and caution, both behind the scenes and officially. It really is business as usual. Sort of, anyway.

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