Players unhappy at demise of Capital's event
Fred Funk can't believe what's happening to his hometown tournament.
"I'm really upset that things unfolded the way they did," Funk said. "I just feel that D.C. is a market we should be playing in, at nearly any cost."
Even if a sponsor can be found to keep the event going, the PGA Tour's only stop in the Washington area will probably never be the same. The Booz Allen Classic -- enjoy the name while it lasts -- tees off Thursday for its final June edition before it gets either shuffled down the calendar to the fall in 2007 or scratched altogether.
"I think it's a travesty," Tom Kite said, "how you cannot have a tournament in our nation's capital, especially a tournament that has been this good throughout the years."
Funk and Kite have more than a bit of bias. Funk grew up in the nearby suburbs and was the golf coach at the University of Maryland. Kite won this event in 1987, the first year it was played at its present home, the TPC at Avenel.
Other golfers have been less kind. They've criticized the course and scheduled themselves to play elsewhere. Whether the tournament was held in May or June -- before the U.S. Open or after -- it usually couldn't compete with the events such as the Colonial, the Memorial or Westchester when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Co. were making out their spring and early summer plans.
So the PGA Tour announced this year that the Booz Allen will become part of a new but less-enticing Fall Series that will feature players who are trying to keep their spots on the tour. Booz Allen Hamilton was so unimpressed that it decided not to renew its sponsorship deal, and, despite months of searching, a new title sponsor hasn't been found.
"The search continues," commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. "We are still optimistic that we can pull a tournament together. Notwithstanding some of the negativity that the date change has resulted in, we believe we can field a good solid tournament in Washington in the fall."
Finchem explained the rationale behind the move. The Booz Allen dates have always fluctuated from year to year -- from late May to late June -- and he wanted to give it a permanent slot in the week following the U.S. Open.
Booz Allen Hamilton naturally preferred the week before the Open, to attract a better field.
"The main thing, Booz Allen did not want to play anything after the Open," Finchem said.
That's because the week following the U.S. Open is as quiet as it gets. Not a single player in the world Top 20 rankings is playing the Booz Allen this week. The weather says it's summer, but the field looks like fall.
Sergio Garcia, who won when the tournament took a one-year detour to Congressional Country Club last year, withdrew on Monday with a back injury. The top player here, No. 23 Padraig Harrington, said he's exhausted from last week's Open at Winged Foot and is playing only because he's a man of his word.
"I've got to say, I find it very hard to look forward to this tournament," said Harrington, who tied for fifth at the Open after bogeying the final three holes on Sunday. "I'm spending most of my time looking back at the last tournament."
Finchem said a new title sponsor probably needs to be found by September for the tournament to take place in 2007. Regardless, the commissioner said that a plan to spend $18 million to $20 million on course and clubhouse renovations is still in the works, a show of faith that the tour expects the event will be around in the long term -- even if it disappears for a year or so.
"We ought to have a first-class event in Washington if we're going to have one," Finchem said. "If we're going to move forward, we want to do it in the best possible way."
Meanwhile, local hero Funk is sure to be the gallery favorite when play begins Thursday. This was the tournament he always wanted to play when he was a club pro. Now that he's on the tour, it's the event that he really wants to win. Having just turned 50 -- and with the top names missing -- he knows this could be his best chance.
And the last.
"Seems like my history of tournaments I've won, they've either gotten rid of the tournament or they moved the date," Funk said. "So I should just win this one by default."
June 22, 2006