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USGAs Antiquated 18-hole Payoff Needs to Go

USGANEWPORT, R.I. -- Annika Sorenstam was so tired from playing 54 holes in two days that she took Tuesday off after winning the U.S. Women's Open. Pat Hurst was exhausted before she got to the first tee for the 18-hole playoff, and that was after a night of rest.
Imagine how Billy Burke and George Von Elm must have felt.

It was 75 years ago when they engaged in the longest playoff in golf history at the 1931 U.S. Open. They were tied after 72 holes of regulation, the final 36 holes in one day. There was a 36-hole playoff the next day, and both men shot 7-over 149. So they came back a fifth day for 36 more holes, and Burke shot 148 to win by a single shot at Inverness.
By comparison, Sorenstam got off easy.
The USGA is the only golf organization that still believes an 18-hole playoff is the fairest measure of a champion.
But if that's such a fair test, why did it ever change from 36 holes?
And what keeps the USGA from getting with the times and changing to a four-hole playoff (British Open), a three-hole playoff (PGA Championship) or a sudden-death playoff (Masters)?
Not even the winner at Newport Country Club liked the idea of 18 holes.
'I think maybe a three-hole playoff would have been a little better, especially when all the excitement and adrenaline was there last night with all the people,' Sorenstam said.
Turns out she only needed one hole, anyway. Sorenstam hit sand wedge that spun back to 6 feet for birdie on the opening hole, Hurst three-putted for bogey, and everyone was asking about a mercy rule the rest of the morning.
'You work so hard, and then we leave Sunday and we still don't know who won,' Sorenstam said. 'It's kind of funny how that all works out. It makes for a long week, that's for sure. You would think that you could determine a winner within 75 holes.'
Hurst offered either a three-hole or a six-hole solution.
Strangely enough, everyone wondered whether Hurst had the stamina to keep up with Sorenstam over 36 holes on a sun-baked afternoon at Newport, with only about 25 minutes to grab lunch between the third and fourth rounds. A 37-year-old mother of two, Hurst is more likely to be found at McDonald's than Gold's Gym.
But fitness wasn't an issue Sunday.
Hurst sat on her bag during long waits in the five-plus hour rounds, but her game was superb. She matched Sorenstam shot for shot over 36 holes, playing her best golf -- a final-round 69, matching the lowest score of the tournament -- as the day wore on.
What killed her was getting some rest before the Monday playoff.
'The competitive juices weren't flowing as much as they were yesterday,' Hurst said. 'You're in the moment. I felt like I lost a little bit coming back out the next day. I wasn't into it as much as I was into it yesterday.'
And those are just the players.
The atmosphere was dull Monday morning. Instead of 20,000 people crammed into the bleachers and packed behind the ropes, there were about 800 people at most to watch the start of the playoff, a number that swelled only slightly.
The USGA said 4,655 people showed up Monday, but some were eating lunch on picnic tables by the entrance, enjoying a summer afternoon in Rhode Island, waiting for a winner who could have been crowned the night before.
Volunteers who could have been sailing or sunning returned to Newport to hold ropes and post scores and drive shuttles. The playoff was televised by ESPN -- Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie didn't bother returning -- and the network probably wished it could have dumped this off on The Golf Channel after Sorenstam led by three shots after three holes, and five shots at the turn.
Hurst and Sorenstam played 36 holes Sunday. Why did they need 18 more on Monday?
And if sudden-death is such a sham, why does the USGA use that in case of a tie after the 18-hole playoff? Why get away from the marathon match 75 years ago between Burke and Von Elm?
The other organizations wised up.
The Royal & Ancient gave up on the 36-hole playoff in time for Jack Nicklaus to beat Doug Sanders over 18 holes (72-73) in 1970 at St. Andrews. Then the R&A really went outside the box, introducing a four-hole aggregate playoff in 1989, won by Mark Calcavecchia at Royal Troon. Were they lesser champions because they didn't play 36 holes?
One could argue that Greg Norman might have won in 1989 if he had 18 holes instead of four, but an argument could be made just as easily that the Shark still would have found calamity waiting for him at the end.
The PGA Championship used to have an 18-hole playoff after it changed to stroke play in 1958, and it was the first of the men's majors to switch to sudden-death in 1977 when Lanny Wadkins won at Pebble Beach. Then it copied the R&A by going to a three-hole playoff in 2000, when Tiger Woods defeated Bob May.
The Masters switched to a sudden-death playoff and is sticking to it, although wouldn't it be sweet to see a three-hole playoff over Amen Corner -- a par 4, par 3 and a par 5?
As for those who believe anything but 18-hole playoffs can produce fluke champions, explain Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan in 1955 at The Olympic Club.
There's no reason for the USGA not to change, especially since it has gone from an 18-hole playoff to a 36-hole playoff to an 18-hole playoff during its 111 years of championship golf.
And there's nothing in the Rules of Golf that spells out how to crown a champion.
Only that the lowest score wins.