Reality hits home as lightning strikes Open Henke, Stewart lead first round

June 14, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHASKA, Minn. -- It was, literally, the calm after the storm. When the rain stopped, when the winds quieted, when the commotion ended, Hazeltine National Golf Club relented.

The course that had caused such a stir in its first U.S. Open appearance 21 years ago gave in last night to a number of players, most notably Nolan Henke and Payne Stewart.

Both played most of yesterday's opening round following a rain delay of more than two hours and the death of one spectator. Each shot a brilliant 5-under-par 67 to share the lead in the 91st Open.

"Playing after the storm was an advantage," said Stewart, who finished moments before play was finally called for the day at 9:16 p.m. CDT. "The guys who played last saw a different course than those who played before the storm hit."

Henke and Stewart hold a one-shot lead over Tom Byrum. Two players, Scott Hoch and Mark Calcavecchia, are two strokes behind at 3-under 69. Four-time Open champion Jack Nicklaus and former Open winner Scott Simpson are among seven players at 2-under 70. Defending champion Hale Irwin is in a group of seven at 1-under 71.

But the first-round play was overshadowed by the death of a spectator, William Fadell, who was hit by lightning a short time after play was postponed. Five other spectators were injured, one seriously. In a strange way, the prolonged delay and the tragic events seemed to help Byrum.

"It was just like, I can't believe we're playing the U.S. Open when xTC someone died," said Byrum, who was 1-over par through four holes when the storm hit. "You feel fortunate to be doing what you're doing. How can you get uptight about a bad shot or a bad score? I think it relaxed me."

Henke, who had started the day by holing out from 177 yards out for an eagle 2 at No. 1, a 440-yard, par-4, didn't find out that a spectator had been killed until he finished the round. The feeling he had in sharing the lead in only his second Open was tempered by the tragic news.

"I didn't know that," said Henke, who appeared shaken when told the news in the press tent. "We [the players] have everything taken care of for us. But as a spectator, you don't really know where to go."

Stewart, who had started out with birdies on three of the first four holes, called the day's events "a tragedy."

"It's a shame that something like that has to happen," he said. "Sometimes, we take Mother Nature for granted. That's a lesson for all of us."

It was a long and difficult day for some notable players, which was prolonged considerably by the rain delay. Billy Andrade, coming off two straight wins, was 4-under through 10 holes and struggled in at 4-over 76. Greg Norman finished at 78 as darkness hit.

It was also a difficult day for the USGA, which came under fire from Irwin for the method it used to get spectators off the course when the storm hit. The USGA used a number of airhorns situated throughout the course to alert players and fans, rather than a siren.

"This is not a [PGA] tour event," Irwin said. "The tour would have probably had those sirens going loudly and audibly. I don't think everything was in the same coordination. Maybe a siren might have prevented that, but I don't think so."

The death of the spectator was on the minds of many when play resumed. But it wasn't the only thing; the 7,149-yard course and the Open itself occupied the thoughts of the players.

"It's part of the preparation," said Australian Craig Parry, who finished at 2-under 70. "That's [the course] what you've got to prepare for. You've got to be very patient."

With three days remaining, golf likely will come back to the forefront today at Hazeltine. People will talk about birdies and bogeys rather than rain delays and fatalities.

But for one day, what the U.S. Open has been about for 91 years was nearly forgotten.

"We all played a little differently after something like that happens," said Davis Love III. "It put things in perspective. I wasn't quite as worried about my game after that."

U.S. Open

The leaders . . .

Nolan Henke 32-35-67

Payne Stewart 33-34-67

. . . and followers

Tom Byrum 35-33-8

Scott Hoch 36-33-69

Mark Calcavecchia 35-34-69

Jack Nicklaus 37-33-70

Fred Couples 36-34-70

Keith Clearwater 37-33-70

Jim Gallagher Jr. 35-35-70

Craig Parry 34-36-70

Davis Love III 37-33-70

Scott Simpson 35-35-70

Hale Irwin 35-36-71

Tom Watson 37-36-73

Complete scores: Page 6C

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