Aug 24, 2019
Bob HarigESPN Senior Writer
- Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
- Covered golf for more than 20 years
- Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University
ATLANTA — Six spectators were injured when lightning struck a tree at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday afternoon during a weather delay at the Tour Championship.
Lightning struck the top of a tree near the 15th green/16th tee and shattered bark all the way to the bottom. The PGA Tour said in a statement Saturday that debris from the strike injured four people, who were transported via ambulances to local hospitals along with two others.
The Atlanta police and fire departments on Sunday confirmed that five people were injured and taken to nearby hospitals. A sixth person was treated and released at the scene.
All five people taken to local hospitals were released Saturday night.
Also, officials were brought in late Saturday to assess the integrity of the pine tree that was struck, and determined the tree was safe.
“The safety and well-being of our fans and players is our highest priority, and we were with those being treated until they were released from area hospitals,” read Sunday’s statement from the PGA Tour. “We are deeply grateful that the injuries were not more serious, and we’re proud of the collective efforts of the on-site team to quickly care for our fans during this frightening incident.”
Billy Kramer, owner of NFA Burgers, which had a food tent at East Lake, said he was riding in a golf cart when the lightning struck. The impact knocked him out of the cart and left him with a sprained ankle. He was hospitalized on Saturday night as a precaution.
“All of a sudden, it was just like a boom, like a bomb went off,” Kramer told WSB-TV. “There were people screaming.”
Play in the third round of the event had been halted at 4: 17 p.m. ET due to dangerous weather in the area. Players were taken off the course and many spectators left. Two lightning strikes occurred at approximately 4: 45 p.m.
Due to the circumstances, the third round was suspended for the day, with play resuming at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday.
“I think most of us saw what happened yesterday (when there was a weather delay), and we’d adjust accordingly today,” said Matt Kuchar, who had completed seven holes when play was called. “We trust the tour to do the right thing. This is an easy one to ‘Monday morning quarterback’ and we should’ve and could’ve, but we didn’t.”
“We had a situation where there were pop-up thunderstorms,” said Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions. “We have a meteorologist on staff. We can monitor that. And a lot of times we get lucky and we don’t get hit with thunderstorms, especially when it’s a situation when they’re pop-ups like that.
“Now, that’s what we were faced with. So, we’re going to see if we can deal with that. We can suspend play and get people out of here if that does happen, but a lot of times we’re on the positive side, hoping that we can play golf and get lucky and not be in the path of those thunderstorms.”
Asked why tee times were not moved up far earlier in the day, Russell said: “I think if we did that every time we had a possibility of thunderstorms in the Southeast, we’d do that basically every time we played golf.”
Added Tyler Dennis, the tour’s vice president and chief of operations: “We have a professional meteorologist that’s on site every week on all of our tours. And forecasting the weather, the safety that goes along with it — that is critical to us. Safety, obviously, but just managing what we do out here. I think many of you that follow the Tour around know that just about every day of the year when we’re looking at the scheduled play for the next day or the format, we’re taking into account all kinds of factors with that. You know, safety, as we’re talking about right now, and other things related to the competition.
“And so we have a lot of scenarios throughout the year where we look at it, and there’s a very high degree of certainty that there will be storms coming. And there’s a lot of other days when we look at it and we see, as it was today — I believe it was a 50-60% chance of storms from 3 to 6 this afternoon — and we just have to evaluate it and make our best decision when we make the schedule.
“Obviously when it comes down to suspension of play, we don’t leave any room for error there. Safety is a huge priority for us.”
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach contributed to this report.