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 that debris from the strike injured four people, who were transported via ambulances to local hospitals along with two others.
According to the PGA Tour, the injuries “do not appear to be life-threatening.”
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. There were two lightning strikes that occurred at approximately 4:45 p.m.
Due to the circumstances, the third round was suspended for the day, with play set to resume 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 of and could of, 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 to take any luck out of the situation, 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 to 60% chance of storms from 3:00 to 6:00 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.