For 27 summers, as the Kemper Open became the FBR Capital Open then finally devolved into the doomed Booz Allen Classic, local golf fans often wondered if having an annual pro golf event in Washington was really worth the effort. Why bother?
How many times can you get stuck in the same axle-deep muddy parking lot while lightning strikes on the horizon and tents are evacuated because of gale-force winds? How many years can you listen to the same band of itinerant golfers as they bad-mouth the TPC Avenel golf course while leaving town with bags full of prize money?
How many generations of volunteer workers can give their labor to a second-tier PGA Tour event that always seems to be won by Frank Lickliter or Bob Estes in a quagmire on Monday? How many times can the generosity of Congressional Country Club be imposed upon, playing host eight times in those 27 years, to keep air in the lungs of such an intensive-care event?
For more than a quarter century, why would a great world capital such as Washington respond to such backhanded treatment with endless summers of open-handed support and even wider wallets? Now we know the answer: Tiger Woods.
You can't win the game if you aren't in the game. And Washington, by staying in the tour picture so long and so doggedly, was finally in the right place at the right time this month for Woods to embrace this area. Sometimes, fidelity actually does pay off. Sometimes, if you keep plugging, you catch a break. Or, sometimes, if a town gets angry enough and lets everybody know how shabbily it's been treated, as this area did when the Tour ditched us last year, the squeaky wheel finally gets the grease.
When you least expect it, the stars finally align. After 33 years, the Expos were ready to move and they landed in RFK Stadium. Now, after nearly as long a wait for first-class status in golf, Washington has moved from near the bottom of the tour pecking order to somewhere near the top. When the No. 1 star in golf puts his name on a tournament, other stars come.
The tour announced yesterday that the sport will return to the Washington area this July and that the Tiger Woods Foundation will be the main beneficiary. The sponsor has not yet been named, but you can bet it will be one of Tiger's major brand names. Congressional will, almost certainly, step up to the plate for the area once again and host the event in '07 and '08.
"This has the potential to become Tiger's signature event," one golf industry source said yesterday, "in much the same way that Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the late Byron Nelson have had their tournaments in Columbus, Orlando and Dallas."
Such a bonding between this town and Tiger is an issue for the future. But we have reason to believe this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. As recently as three weeks ago, before the International outside Denver collapsed for lack of a sponsor, there wasn't even a mid-summer slot available on the PGA Tour calendar. Now look what's happened. Everybody scrambled to fill the appealing open date. Woods was in the picture. Cities from Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., to Kansas City and Philadelphia wanted to be picked. But Washington had laid the groundwork, paid the dues, proved its depth of local support.
Now, the new Woods-Washington event suddenly falls three weeks after the U.S. Open, two weeks before the British Open. That's ideal for drawing a strong field and perhaps perfect for Woods's twin purposes of helping his game and his charity. For so long, Washington's stepchild event seldom got a decent date. Now, we're in the midseason catbird seat.
Maybe patience is Washington's sports virtue. We waited a third of a century for baseball to return, alternately enticing the sport with our vast untapped market and castigating it for ignoring the nation's capital. Those threats by some in Congress of revoking baseball's antitrust exemption didn't hurt. Yet as recently as three years ago, there was still meager hope that baseball would return here. And Woods had never visited the local tour stop, only showing for a U.S. Open or Presidents Cup.
Now, how our summer plans have changed! This July, Woods may or may not play here; it will depend on the arrival date of his first child. But imagine the week of July 4 in '08. The Nationals will be in a new ballpark on the Anacostia that's already nearly half built. And Woods will be playing against a quality field at Congressional in his foundation's event.
You wait and wait; then, in what seems like a blink, everything changes. Of course, we're going to have to adapt. Get our minds right. This may not be easy. For all those years we got Morris Hatalsky, Tom Byrum, Billy Andrade, Grant Waite, Tom Scherrer and Rory Sabbatini. If we were lucky, Gil Morgan, Mark Brooks, Bill Glasson, Steve Stricker, Stuart Appleby, Rich Beem or Adam Scott won here. At least knowledgeable fans had heard of them and could follow their further adventures.
But now we may have to get used to Woods, the top celebrity in all of sports, setting off his fireworks around here the week of July 4 for the rest of his career. This is no minor addition to our civic calendar. Look how long Nicklaus, Palmer and Nelson maintained their associations with one town. So let's make sure Woods feels at home here. If Tiger wants to turn the Mall into his private driving range for a week, surely that can be arranged, right? Who else could carry the whole reflecting pool?
Last summer, some harsh things were written here about the PGA Tour when it skipped town. Upon review, they stand. But some others should be added. Commissioner Tim Finchem said he would try the best he could to find another event for Washington if the opportunity ever arose. No one dreamed that event would arrive so quickly or that Woods would come with it. But Finchem kept his word. In recent weeks, after the Denver tournament simply went up in smoke, the tour has consistently said Washington had the inside track.
Much in pro sports in recent years has tended to disappoint, even alienate, fans. Steroid cheating has tainted records and heroes, especially in baseball. The reputations of the NFL and NBA are endangered by their rap sheets. Jet fuel in NASCAR?
Perhaps Washington now symbolizes a sweeter side to such things. If a city pursues a baseball team for 33 years, then gets it; if it supports a decent-to-dreadful PGA Tour stop for 27 years, then, after getting dumped, awakes to a date with Tiger Woods, surely there's some poetic justice at work. Besides, we deserve it.