The LPGA, which took heat for prematurely condensing the Evian Championship to 54 holes two weeks ago, came under fire again for not shutting down the final round of Sunday’s New Zealand Open before stormy conditions became so perilous that players were in danger of being hit by flying objects.
After a number of players blasted officials for keeping them on the course as Sunday’s strong winds sent from flying objects in their direction, chief of tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio defended organizers, saying they were caught unaware by the worsening weather.
“It was clearly a serious situation,” Daly-Donofrio said Monday on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. “We had an unexpected squall come through, and that happens. Wind patterns are very difficult to predict.”
Daly-Donofrio, who said officials obviously “did not want to put players in danger,” defended the decision to continue play during the windstorm after Belen Mozo and others took to Twitter to complain about the tour’s judgment. The tour suspended play after TV cameras showed the 54-hole leader nearly being hit by signage that the gusts tore loose and complaining that, “This tour, we are like sheeps.”
Mozo, who finished at 9-under — eight shots behind Brooke Henderson, who finally prevailed in Monday’s completion — began the tweet storm after players were called off the course on Sunday.
She made it clear that her grievance was unrelated to the outcome but with the determination from on high that threatened participants’ safety.
My reason for complaining had nothing to do with result,it was after the fact I almost got slammed by a sign and was told to stay were I was— Belén Mozo (@BelenMozo) October 1, 2017
Mozo was not the only competitor unhappy with the way things played out on Sunday.
This is a freaking joke!!!!! https://t.co/yzMiVvSx50— Brittany Lincicome (@Brittany1golf) October 1, 2017
This is so bad!!!! Why are these girls out there during these conditions??? https://t.co/P9LxzBeQ2m— Paula Creamer (@ThePCreamer) October 1, 2017
Danielle Kang, in a tweet that she later deleted but that Golfweek.com captured in a screen save, said she “watched spectators get blown over and get hit by umbrellas and we were still told to stay outside…” She added that no one was to blame for “just some unfortunate events.”
Daly-Donofrio contended that officials stopped the competition “as soon as the squall hit … and got players off the course as quickly as possible.” She also said the tour wants to hear from players and that she had contacted Mozo for her feedback.
“We don’t always make the right decision,” she said. “It’s a difficult job on the field of play, when to call suspensions, when to send players out, and sometimes Mother Nature just has a mind of her own and things happens, but, certainly, safety is paramount for our players.”
Daly-Donofrio also backed up the LPGA’s decision to shorten the Evian, which is the tour’s fifth major championship, before players had finished the opening round.
“Our goal is always to finish 72 holes, but there are a lot of factors that go into that decision, primarily course conditions and weather,” she said, noting that TV viewers had no way to gauge the extent of conditions on-site.
“They don’t have a full grasp of the circumstances,” she said. “It’s one of those situations if you were not there in the middle of it, you couldn’t fully appreciate how bad it was. At the time, we had rain in the forecast through the weekend and through Monday and through Tuesday. It felt like we had to give players a plan of attack for a major championship, and, honestly, at that point, we felt like we needed Monday to finish 54 holes.”
Lost in the chaos of events in Auckland was Henderson’s fifth tour win.
Playing her first five holes in 3-under on Sunday, the 20-year-old Canadian finished the final round with a 3-under 69 to get to 17-under for the week.
“That is the toughest conditions I have played in terms of winds, rain and delays — and how long it took to play a round of golf,” Henderson said. “I feel mentally drained by it but running on adrenaline to know this trophy is mine.”