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PGA Tour returns in sombre mood

Arnold Palmer longed for the day when the PGA Tour would come to his backyard. He only wished the circumstances were different.

American flags hung from every pin at Laurel Valley Golf Club, located about 15 miles from where one of the hijacked airliners plowed into a field. Some players canceled their flights and drove to western Pennsylvania, still uneasy about flying.

The chatter on the practice range was muted. Stewart Cink carefully removed the fairway metals from his bag because Fred Funk's wife was painting it, making 50 white dots as the final touch on the American flag.

``It's good to be playing again,'' Cink said.

Still, he couldn't get his mind off the United Airlines flight that passengers apparently took back from hijackers and perhaps averted another strike at a landmark, possibly the White House or even Camp David. Palmer has friends at Laurel Valley who saw the plane pass by.

``My heart is telling me I should go to the crash site,'' Cink said. ``I feel very strongly about what happened last week. We all do. I want to go pay my respects, say a prayer and say goodbye. Those people were heroes.''

The PGA Tour returns this week in the Pennsylvania Classic. Getting back to normal is another matter.

``It's a tough week,'' said Palmer, a founder of Laurel Valley whose career was shaped just down the road at Latrobe. ``We'll survive. The American people have known disaster. Our history tells you that we will come back.

``We need to get on with our activities,'' he said. ``The only concern I might have is that we don't forget what has happened.''

That will be hard to do this week. The tour decided to place American flags on every green instead of the flags with the tournament logo.

The tournament will be halted Thursday at noon -- just as it will at every PGA Tour sanctioned event -- for five minutes of reflection. A siren will sound to stop play, and a brief ceremony will take place on the 18th green, with audio equipment set up so that players can listen wherever they are on the course.

``We want to get moving again, but it's not all business as usual,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. ``It's different, and what's happened to our country is different than anything that's ever happened. We want to focus on any little way that our sport can pay its respects and show support.''

The field for the Marconi Pennsylvania Classic is proof this isn't a normal week.

The tour allowed for two extra spots in what is now a 158-man field. The additions are Palmer, the man responsible for bringing the PGA Tour to the Pittsburgh area, and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange.

Five Ryder Cup players were late entries. They weren't planning to play until next week's matches in England were postponed for one year because of the terrorist attacks.

``Guys are professionals. They'll get back to work and they'll play,'' Strange said. ``That's what the president has told all of America, is that we should carry on. I just thought by coming up here, and by a couple of other Ryder Cup players playing, it shows that we are moving on.''

Finchem said security on the PGA Tour, one of the few sports where the gallery has easy access to the athletes, has been increasing over the past five years. New measures in light of the attacks will include more security staff, a ban on backpacks and a search of all smaller bags, such as purses.

The defending champion is Chris DiMarco, only he won the Pennsylvania Classic last year across the state at Waynesboro Country Club near Philadelphia. This is the only regular PGA Tour event that alternates cities.

Palmer would like that to change.

Laurel Valley has held two big tournaments, the 1965 PGA Championship and the 1975 Ryder Cup.

``This club wanted an event,'' Palmer said. ``I'm pretty close to the commissioner, and I'm also pretty close to the governor, and through various conversations we've worked up to where we are today. I love Philadelphia, but if I can get it settled here, I'm going to do it.''

Palmer is equally determined about his golf, even though his scores have ballooned this year. He did shoot his age (71) in January at the Bob Hope Classic, but is more likely to sign for something in the 80s, and even had a 92 at a Senior PGA Tour event.

``If I shoot 80, it isn't going to make one damn bit of difference, only to me,'' Palmer said. ``I'm embarrassed sometimes by my scores. But I've had a lot of good scores and I've had a lot of bad. With all the admiration, there has to be a little humiliation somewhere in the line. I'm ready to accept that.''

No one will care what he shoots this week. Palmer is responsible for bringing golf to the masses some 40 years ago, and he remains one of the most endearing figures in sports.

And while a winner will be determined Sunday, the goal for the week seems to be getting back to the business of golf -- without forgetting the tragedy.

``I don't think anyone can dismiss thoughts of last week,'' DiMarco said. ``I can forget about it for five hours while I play golf, and then it's still right there when I'm done. So, I'm just going to go out and try to focus and play golf.''


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