HONOLULU – The sun peeked over Diamond Head just after 7 a.m. on Saturday, ushering in a textbook morning in paradise.
A light “trade” breeze swayed palm trees, families made their way to the beach and tourists milled around Waikiki in search of somewhere to eat breakfast. It was the kind of morning that draws people from all over the world to Hawaii.
The first signs that something wasn’t right came just after 8 a.m. Matt Every sat at a street-side café in Waikiki when pedestrians began running by in search of shelter.
“There’s a missile coming,” someone yelled.
The message was sent at 8:07 a.m., via text from the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency: “BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Charles Howell III was at breakfast at The Kahala Hotel adjacent to Waialae Country Club when his phone began to warble.
“I texted a friend of mine who is in the Navy [at Pearl Harbor] and they were scrambling as well,” Howell said. “Part of me wanted to go to the beach and have a mai tai, part of me didn’t know what to do.”
The Kahala, which is a popular place for players to stay for this week’s Sony Open, announced the alert across the property and advised guests to go to the basement. Ben Martin was hesitant at first until he began to scroll through his Twitter feed and realized the threat could be real.
“I went to the basement. There were a lot of players down there,” Martin said. “Everybody was freaking out.”
Chez Reavie is staying in a hotel in Waikiki, where the alarm caused widespread concern among the throngs of tourists.
“I was like holy s---,” Reavie said. “I looked outside and saw everybody running. I just stayed in my room.”
It was a common theme on the most surreal of Saturdays as confusion and concern reigned. There’s no chapter in the PGA Tour player manual about inbound missile threats.
Jordan Spieth called his parents back home in Texas to ask for updates and actually received the all clear from his brother when his cell service went down.
At 8:45 a.m., 38 minutes after the original warning was issued a correction was finally sent out advising that there was no missile.
NO missile threat to Hawaii.— Hawaii EMA (@Hawaii_EMA) January 13, 2018
The alert never impacted play at Waialae with the first tee times scheduled for 11:05 a.m., but many in the field were shaken by the experience as they prepared for the third round.
Tony Finau was in his hotel with his wife and kids when he received the alert and admitted it was a difficult position, torn between wanting to be with his family during a time of crisis and having them in harm’s way.
“It was a blessed day,” said Finau, whose round was highlighted by a hole-in-one at No. 17. “It puts things in perspective with what could happen. Golf was the last thing on people’s minds.”
No one, however, endured the emotional rollercoaster as much as Blayne Barber. He’d gone to dinner on Friday with his caddie, Cory Gilmer, and brother, Shayne, and had just returned to his room when he received a call that Gilmer had fallen and hit his head.
“He's in the neurological ICU, a lot of bleeding and swelling in his brain,” Barber said. “I slept about three hours. That was about the hardest day of golf I've ever played, between that and the texts this morning.”
Barber received the text alert as he was walking into the hospital to see Gilmer. He played Round 3, because that’s what Gilmer would have wanted, and he struggled, posting a 2-over 72. But none of that really mattered.
“I've been gone from my kids and my wife for 10 days, and between that happening to Cory and then just the emotions of facing your own mortality in that moment, it's just been a heavy day for sure,” said Barber as he fought back tears. “It's been a good day. It's good to face those things sometimes.”
And there was golf on Saturday. Some impressive golf, actually.
Tom Hoge went around Waialae in 64 shots to unseat Brian Harman, the most consistent player on the Tour this season with four top-10 finishes in four starts, atop the leaderboard; as did Patton Kizzire, who is tied with Harman at 15 under and a stroke off the lead.
Harman will go into a Tour Sunday in contention for the second consecutive week, having lost to a dominant Dustin Johnson to start the year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions; while Hoge, who was bogey-free on Saturday and finished his day with back-to-back birdies, will sleep on his first 54-hole lead on Tour.
That’s if he’s able to sleep at all after one of the most surreal days in recent memory.
Spieth, who endured another non-Spieth-like putting round (31 putts), spent the day reminding his caddie, “at least we’re alive, which isn’t really funny.”
No, it wasn’t funny, but it was eye opening.
It’s rare when the outside world invades the polished confines of golf, but on Saturday those realities came in from all directions and were impossible to ignore or forget.
“I kept thinking to myself, this can’t be real,” Howell said of the text alert. “But then I kept thinking maybe it’s sign of the world we live in. It could be real.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t real, but for 38 tense minutes it certainly felt real enough.