Jason Deters had never once been a starter prior to Saturday's round at the AT&T National. Funny thing is, not even the most veteran starters have seen a crowd like the one Deters saw — or rather, the one he didn't see.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome from Augusta, Georgia, Vaughn Taylor,” he called on the 10th tee box.
The normal response would be polite yet loud applause, maybe a 'whoop' here or a whistle there. The reaction on Saturday? Silence.
“Quiet please!” joked Ben Crane's caddie as Taylor stepped up to his ball.
After violent storms ravaged the blue course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, tackling 70-foot-tall trees to the ground and leaving limbs treacherously hanging, tournament officials deemed it too dangerous for spectators to attend Saturday's third round. Fans with tickets for Saturday will be able to use them on Sunday or return them to the Tiger Woods Foundation for a refund.
Deters, a U.S. Marine who served as a caddie on the 17th hole on Wednesday and then as a flag-holder on Thursday, received the opportunity be a starter as a part of the tournament's focus on raising funds and awareness for the military.
So he woke from his barracks in Quantico, Va., at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday and made the 44-mile trip to Congressional by 6 a.m., only to see a course with trees laying in the fairways and branches and leaves dotting the normally spotless greens. The air was filled with the sounds of grinding of bulldozers and chainsaws as the grounds crew, under Congressional's Director of Golf Course Maintenance Mike Giuffre, battled mother nature's damage.
Saturday's round was slated to start shortly after 7 a.m., but the start time was pushed back to 10 a.m., and then even further to 1 p.m. as the workers hacked and hauled the trees away.
“Mike Giuffre and his staff, those guys had no sleep,” said Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's Vice President of Rules and Competition. “They had to get four big trees off the entryway into the club before anybody could even get in.”
By some “minor miracle,” as Bo Van Pelt called it, the tournament was able to begin play at 1 p.m., sending threesomes off from holes 1 and 10. But with so few people watching, it didn't have the feel of a PGA tournament, and it certainly didn't have the feel of a weekend round with golf's biggest name in the hunt.
The course had an eerily serene atmosphere, almost like an empty church, only one with a lot more trees, fallen or standing, and no air conditioning.
“It's like a Monday out here,” said Rory Sabbatini as he waited to tee off on No. 10.
Dustin Johnson had a little fun with it, tipping his hat to the non-existent crowd and pumping his fist theatrically several times after making a birdie.
“You know, it was a little strange a couple times,” said Billy Hurley III, who surged up the leaderboard with a 5-under 66. “You make a nice putt and you're like, 'OK, we'll move on.' But at the same time it was sort of peaceful out there and easy to get around.”
Russell said he can't remember the last time any tournament closed its doors to fans.
“It was different,” Hurley said. “In some ways it was nice, in some ways it was not nice. It was a different experience. I don't know that I'll ever have that again. I don't think anyone has ever had it before.”