Unique golf scoring system generates excitement, controversy
Castle Rock, Colo. — A unique scoring format on the men's golf tour last week not only quadrupled this year's earnings for unheralded Ken Green but generated a great deal of controversy among players, spectators, and officials. The International, a four-round elimination tournament making its debut at Castle Pines Golf Club, was the first PGA tour event ever to use the Stableford system, which awards points hole by hole in relation to par. The system, devised by England's Dr. Frank Stableford half a century ago, awards 10 points for a double eagle (3 under par), 5 for an eagle, 2 for a birdie, 0 for par, minus 1 for a bogey, and minus 3 for double bogeys and higher.
The starting field of 162 was cut to the 78 top scorers for Round 2, and to 39 for Round 3. Only the leading 12 players made the final, and, because no scores carried over to the next day, all started the last round even.
``It's more like a tennis tournament,'' said Tom Kite, who finished in a tie for 10th place. ``You don't have to play exceptional golf the first couple rounds, just as McEnroe and Lendl don't have to play spectacular tennis their first couple rounds. Because there's no carryover day to day, there's no reward for consistency. That's probably why the big names aren't in the final 12.''
One such name was Jack Nicklaus, who designed the par-72, 7,503-yard course 27 miles south of Denver, and who sparked controversy when he lashed out against the format in the early rounds and got in an ongoing public debate with tournament founder Jack Vickers.
``I've always thought golf should be judged on how many, not how did you do it,'' said Nicklaus, who was eliminated after Round 3. ``But whether you liked it or not, it's different, its controversial, and it's been a great contribution to golf.''
Despite all the heated discussion about the scoring system, no one could contest the final round winner, Ken Green. The 28-year-old Connecticut native compiled six birdies and 12 pars for a Stableford score of 12 -- a medal score of 66 -- outpacing Bernhard Langer by three points to walk away with $180,000.
``Say hypothetically that 12 players go into the final round of any stroke-play tournament; if I shot a 66, I know I'd win it,'' said Green, whose only other tour victory was the 1985 Buick Open. ``This system is a bit different, because the birdie makes up so much ground. Personally, I think it's good to have variations.''
The player with the most reason to question the system was Joey Sindelar, who led the way with a 72-hole medal score of 274, four strokes better than Green. But Sindelar, who had eight points in the final round and finished tied for third with J. C. Snead, was anything but unhappy.
``I don't have a complaint in the world about this system,'' the 28-year-old Kentucky native said. ``I had a lot of fun out there. I have no regrets, no complaints, and if the question hadn't been raised all the time, I wouldn't have thought of it at all. That's just my luck, to have my best medal tournament here in a different format.''
Spectators were disappointed to see such luminaries as Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Bob Tway, Calvin Peete, and Hal Sutton miss the final cut, but they seemed impressed with the Stableford System and the interest it was generating.
``Rather than the last two days of the tournament being exciting, it makes every day exciting because of the cuts,'' said Joe Howard of Littleton, who brought his wife and six-week-old daughter to watch the professionals. ``There are hundreds of tournaments. Why not have one that is a little different?''
Stableford scoring awards more for exceptional play (birdies and eagles) than it penalizes for mistakes (bogeys), so a golfer has more chance to rally.
``Because of the format the whole situation can change drastically in a few holes,'' said Nick Price, who finished fifth. ``You feel like you can always turn it around. It's exciting for the spectators, but nerve-racking for us.''
That excitement was evident when Langer stepped up to the 18th tee. Down by three points, his only hope of winning was to eagle the par-4, 480-yard hole. Even this would have made no difference in stroke play, because he would still trail Green. But here, of course, it would have vaulted him past the leader in one fell swoop.
So Langer gambled with a driver and a wedge instead of the safer 3-wood drive followed by a 7-iron. ``How many chances in a year do you get to win a tournament, or win $180,000?'' the 1985 Masters champion asked. ``You never give up in this format. I wanted to win and tried everything to win. I think most of us enjoyed the format, and most of the spectators enjoyed it.
Founder Vickers had the last word. ``I think we have captured the imagination and intrigue of golf fans around the country. We may look at some changes for next year, but we'll stick with the Stableford,'' he said. ``I told Jack [Nicklaus] that 15 years ago he would've loved it -- back when he was getting a lot of birdies!''
Even Nicklaus could not have objected too strenuously, for he conceded that he may be back. ``I'm going to play very little golf next year,'' the Golden Bear said. ``If I play 10 tournaments, it will be a lot, but more than likely this will be one of them.''