Something like a shudder ran along the refined spine of the Baltusrol Golf Club today as word spread that Spain's Severiano Ballesteros had been disqualified from the world's most prestigious golf tournament for missing his tee-off time by five minutes.
Such a tizzy of tut-tuts has not swept the U.S. Open, like a coven of old maids buzzing about a shameful decolletage, since Lon Hinkle gave birth to the Hinkle Spruce at last year's golf high tea.
When Jack Nicklaus first heard, he refused to believe. Then, his face pained like a congressman being offered a bribe, he murmured, "Oh, no."
Ballesteros left Baltusrol minutes after his disqualification and presumably made plans to depart beautiful downtown Newark. He issued a prepared statement:
"I thought my tee time was 10:45 (instead of 9:45 a.m.) and so I left my hotel at 9:25. The trip took us longer than usual because of the traffic. It took about 20 minutes. I arrived three-four minutes late. I was very hot when I heard the decision and that's the reason I left quickly. I didn't want to say anything there I'd be sorry for. I am very disappointed, but that's all the facts."
Ballesteros' account jibes with others that were available. A few cynics no doubt will wonder whether Ballesteros' first-round 75 and his acute dislike of the Open rough, which embarrasses his wild-driving game, was a factor in his early return to Europe.
A club guard said that Ballesteros, appearing upset, arrived in the locker room about 9:45, asking for a pairing sheet with starting times. After looking at it hurriedly, he was even more upset. He changed to his golf shoes and double-timed toward the first tee.
Meanwhile, Ballesteros' playing partners -- defending Open champ Hale Irwin and current U.S. Amateur champ Mark O'Meara -- took time hitting their drives, walked slowly down the fairway and dawdled a bit over their second shots.
Once those two men had "played away" from the tee without Ballesteros, he was slapped with a two-stroke penalty. However, he was not subject to disqualification under USGA rules until the last man in his group had hit his second shot on the hole and the subsequent group was, thereby, up to hit.
"I guess everything on the tee was delayed about five minutes," said Hinkle, who was in the next group. "Everybody was going slowly because the word had gotten around that nobody had seen him.
"Finally, Hale and O'Meara had to hit their second shots. It couldn't have been more than 15 seconds after that that Seve came hustling into sight. If he'd been there 15 seconds sooner, he'd only have gotten a two-shot penalty.
"It's a shame to think he came all the way from Europe just to get disqualified by a few seconds. He's not that accustomed to our American ways, I guess. But, you know, a rule is a rule and everybody waited as long as they could.
"That's the way the cookie crumbles."
"I may not have played the front nine too well (three-over-par)," added Hinkle, his mood changing, "but at least I can remember my starting time."
Ballesteros has had previous trouble remembering his. At this year's Masters, when he was tied for the lead after the first round. Ballesteros told the humorous tale of how he overslept on Friday. He had to rush to Augusta National -- munching doughnuts and juice for breakfast on the way -- so as not to miss his tee time before playing the second round in which he took a four-shot lead.
"I was impressed with how calm Seve was (today)," said Hinkle. "I'd have been a nervous wreck in that situation. Once he got to the tee, all he said was, 'Can I play or can't I?' He didn't seem particularly irate.
"He was told he couldn't play," Hinkle said. "I said to him, 'I'll see you at the British Open' and he gave me a big smile and said. 'Okay, good luck today.'"