FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- His accent was reminiscent of Tony Soprano. Hers a little more like Fran Drescher.
Between them, as it relates to the couple's passion for the U.S. Open, no interpreter was required and last year their volume was cranked up to 11. The five-day, 91-hole affair at Torrey Pines left them wanting -- and we're adding the New York inflection here -- moah, moah, moah.
"It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen on TV," Larry Costello said. "The tension, the drama, the back story. It was epic."
It was an epicurean feast for millions, including Costello and his wife, avid sports fans who are on the grounds at Bethpage Black this week watching players as they go through their paces in preparation for the 109th U.S. Open.
The couple hails from a small Long Island hamlet called Bohemia, but there is nothing radical or unconventional about their views on the 19-hole Open playoff last year between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate. They speak of it in rapturous tones.
"Un-fuh-get-able," Stacy Costello said.
Woods and Mediate could have precipitated an Internet meltdown with their five-hour, extra-inning Monday affair, as folks tried to track their progress at work or on their cell phones. Airline pilots gave updates on cross-country flights. People stopped to watch the match on TVs in electronics stores. The seeming mismatch between world No. 1 and No. 157 produced one of the greatest head-to-head showdowns in a major championship in years and Woods, playing on a failing left knee, dubbed it the greatest major victory of his career.
As for how many indelible memories were created for fans, well, that's another matter entirely. Because the USGA is the last organization that still uses an 18-hole playoff to break ties at a major championship, much of the work-a-day world saw little but the edited highlights.
So while it might have produced the ultimate in trauma and drama, is it really the best format to determine who ultimately hoists a Grand Slam trophy? On that discussion front, there is absolutely zero acclamation -- all four majors use differing playoff formats, making them distinct, disparate, and in a slightly deranged fashion, fun.
If not, for the casual fan, slightly confusing.
For years, there have been cries to abolish the 18-hole playoff at the National Open. Critics point to last year's classic as a cautionary example of what could have gone wrong -- had Woods instead missed his birdie putt on the 72nd hole, and Lee Westwood's potential tying birdie attempt not avoided the cup, it would have been Mediate against Westwood on Monday, and the calls for its abolition would have heightened. Do you recall the snooze-inducing 18-hole playoff between Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks at the 2001 U.S. Open? Didn't think so. Case in point, sure, but hardly case closed.
The Masters overtime format is the easiest to understand, since it mirrors the process used in weekly PGA Tour events. A sudden-death playoff begins as soon as regulation is completed, on the 18th hole at Augusta National. First in, wins.
|Kenny Perry, a two-time sudden-death loser in majors, says he prefers that format to an 18-hole playoff. (Getty Images)|
Even players who have been cooked in the major-championship playoff cauldron have trouble finding common ground on which tiebreaker is best. Chris DiMarco lost consecutive majors in playoffs at the 2004 PGA and 2005 Masters.
"I don't really like sudden death," DiMarco said. "Not for a major. There's too much pressure and too many weird things could happen. One hole is too much -- or not enough, so to speak."
Weird things like, say, Angel Cabrera getting the luckiest bounce in recent major-championship history at the three-man Masters playoff in April. His punch-out shot on the first playoff hole caromed dead sideways off a tree and into the fairway, and he saved par. Fate plays a far bigger role.
The PGA Championship moved away from sudden death and to the three-hole affair for exactly that reason.
"This way is fairer," PGA of America official Julius Mason said.
Veteran Kenny Perry was one of those vanquished by Cabrera at the Masters, and also lost the PGA to Brooks in sudden death in 1996, four years before the event switched to the aggregate system. So if ever there were a guy inclined to dislike the all-or-nothing sprint of sudden death, Kentucky Kenny would seemingly top the list of candidates.
"Personally I prefer sudden death," Perry said. "I like getting it over with. We're all in the moment, we're there, we're playing and the guys who are in the playoff are probably the guys who are playing the best. Let's get it on. Momentum -- let's see who's got it the next hole. I like all the chips on the line for one hole."
Decades ago, the Open played its final two rounds on Saturday, so in the event of a tie, the 18-hole playoff was staged on Sunday, a perfect solution since most fans have weekends off. The 18-hole walk on Monday hardly ensures a thrilling dénouement.
"It's just different," Woods said two weeks ago, reflecting on his win last June. "I could totally understand that, back when they used to have the Super Saturdays and Sunday worked out [as the playoff day]. But going into Mondays, you usually don't get the audiences. That's one of the downers to it.
"Then again, as a player who's playing well, you want to go more holes. The better player usually wins in more holes. That's how I've always approached it. The more holes you give me, if I'm playing well, I want more holes. Not just one hole, or even three."
That said, Woods was downright nervous when he faced DiMarco in sudden death at the Masters in 2005, because he had bogeyed the last two holes of regulation to blow a two-shot lead. Woods birdied the 18th in sudden death to win, however, and also won a memorable three-hole affair against Bob May at the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, the first year the event switched to a three-hole aggregate score to break ties.
"I felt more comfort when I had more holes, even at Valhalla," Woods said.
Said DiMarco of the PGA format: "You sort of felt like you had a chance to make up for something if you made a mistake."
Which major championship has the best playoff?
US Open 18 holes plus
Masters sudden death
British Open 4 hole aggregate
PGA Championship 3 hole aggregate
Total Votes: 4,450
Woods has found a kindred spirit in the man with whom he is most associated, Jack Nicklaus. Likewise, Nicklaus always favored the 18-hole playoff and won his first professional title at the 1962 U.S. Open with a playoff victory over Arnold Palmer. Over the years, Nicklaus has evolved into an authority figure on the evolution within the game, and he would love for the USGA to stick to its guns on the 18-hole format. Others have capitulated to what are euphemistically called market influences (read: TV rights holders).
"I hope they keep that tradition," Nicklaus said. "Do I think it's the best for the interests of the game today, for television, the people? No, probably not. I think the Masters has been very practical with that, the PGA Championship has been practical with that and the British Open has been practical with that.
"But the USGA has looked at it more as a golf tournament than a TV show. I think that as our national championship, that's fine. I wish the British Open would have stayed there, too, but they didn't."
Nicklaus, a member at Augusta National, said a Monday playoff at the Masters seems unworkable, in part because it has morphed into a global event and most fans couldn't stay another day. Daylight in April is also an issue.
"Augusta's is really difficult, because their fan base comes from all over the place, whereas if you are going to Bethpage, I'm going to bet you that 90 percent or more are New York-area people," Nicklaus reasoned.
Augusta, which annually draws the biggest TV audiences, also guarantees that no buzz or momentum is lost, which is sometimes a factor at the other three, especially the U.S Open. One of the biggest roars in recent U.S. Open history took place in the press center at the 1999 U.S. Open when Payne Stewart rammed home a 15-footer on the 72nd hole to win by a stroke, saving hundreds of media types from having to detonate their travel and lodging particulars. Fans deprived of seeing an Open winner on Sunday night know the feeling.
"I think that from a practical standpoint, the Masters, British Open and PGA are far more sensitive to what in the world is going on," Nicklaus said.
Which isn't to say the USGA is blithely ignorant. Two years ago, the USGA ditched the 18-hole playoff at the Women's Open because it had clearly lost steam. There are no plans to do likewise with the men, even though last year's extra day in San Diego cost the organization more than $500,000 to piece together last-minute logistics, such as paying for another day of shuttle transportation and food for volunteers.
Last week, David Fay, the executive director of the USGA, told the Associated Press that the organization is "doggedly determined to go 18 holes." Things like tradition, damn the cost, are worth upholding.
Besides, sameness is stultifying.
"Actually, I kind of like that all four majors do different things," DiMarco said.