Caddies recall false alarm ‘missile alert’ during 2018 Sony Open

Mark Urbanek
Caddie Mark Urbanek, left, with James Hahn. Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

From Mark Urbanek, caddie for James Hahn, runner up at the 2018 Sony Open:

At 8:08 a.m. on Saturday, January 13, 2018, a text came across my phone that wasn’t quite the same as the others I had ever received. We’ve all seen the amber alerts and severe weather alerts pop up from time to time, so it was no surprise to receive an emergency alert from an agency that isn’t on your favorites list. However, this one struck a different chord. 

In all caps it read, “BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Hmmmm… OK. Before I could even comprehend what I had just read, my phone rings. It’s my two roommates that week whose players had both missed the cut. They had decided the night before to rent a car and drive up to the North Shore at sunrise to check out the high surf. Lucky bastards were on the safest part of the island, cruising on the beach, almost mocking me at what I was going to do. What are friends for if you can’t make fun of each other when a missile is coming anyway? 

“Did you see that text? What are you going to do?”

Lots of tough guys at the course that day, claiming no chance that it was real and how they couldn’t believe anyone would believe that for a second. Maybe I understand percentages a bit better than they do, or maybe I just feel like I have a few more things that I’d like to contribute to the world before I meet my maker. — Mark Urbanek

“Well, I’m going to put some pants on and get down from our 23rd-floor condo in central Waikiki for starters! Keep in touch if you hear anything else.” 

We were all in agreement that it was probably nothing, but there was no way anyone without direct knowledge of the mishit button didn’t at least have the slightest inkling that it could be real. Even if it was 1-in-a-hundred real, that would still be enough to get the panic juices flowing. If I told you that skydiving had a 1-in-a-hundred chance of having your parachute not open, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t go. Or maybe you would, but that’s an entirely different situation altogether. 

So, with a quick scramble to find some drawers and my wallet, I head down the elevator to the lobby to see what else I could learn. Morning exercise complete, coffee and a light breakfast ingested, I was on the next step of my morning ritual… I’ll spare you the details, but what was going to be a lovely, peaceful event on the friendly confines of my home-field for the week took an eventful turn when the elevator doors opened on the ground floor. 

I was not ready for what I was about to encounter. 

Screaming kids, parents crying, guests yelling at the staff for the bomb-shelter entrance, to which I could hear, “there is no bomb-shelter ma’am.”

Complete pandemonium, and all I’m thinking about is, “where is the bathroom?” 

After a brief search around the crowded, panic-stricken lobby, I found a back hallway with a men’s room, finally, thank goodness. 

Locked. 

Crap, literally. I turned around and jetted towards the neighboring Hyatt lobby. Whether I was to going to find a toilet or not, I needed to get out of this mess at the very least. A couple hundred feet away I found the exact same scene. This is so crazy, I thought to myself.  I kept telling myself that it was probably a mistake, but why was everyone else so panicked? 

Every minute that passed without someone giving the all-clear seemed to make it all the more real. Every few seconds, I was looking up at the sky over my shoulder to see if something was en route, Independence Day-style. Let’s be honest: the world isn’t at its most peaceful state and North Korea is within range from where I’m standing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

My hopes of a successful bathroom mission were quickly extinguished when I found the Hyatt men’s room filled with 20 or so men standing around shoulder to shoulder. Either they shared my same affliction, or they were seeking shelter. Either way, that wasn’t where I was going to hang out for my final few minutes on this planet. At this point, it had been 20 minutes or so from the initial text and a thought crossed my mind as I stepped back onto the city street: what if my parents found out that I had received this text and I had 30 minutes to call and say goodbye and I didn’t? 

That would be hard to fathom, I imagined. Perhaps they figured I was mid-morning ritual, they know me all too well after all, which could be excusable, but I just couldn’t take that chance, what with phones red-flagged these days. 

So I dialed my Mom for what could’ve been my last conversation with her. Not trying to be overly dramatic here, but there was definitely a small chance this was actually going down. Trump and his big mouth, “Little rocket man!” 

Damnit, like Dennis Rodman really smoothed that over.

“Hey mom, what’s going on?”

“Oh, your father and I are just driving down to the beach, how’s it going over there? Ready for a big weekend?”

“Yeah, about that… I just received a really weird text. It’s probably nothing, but I thought you should know just in case it isn’t,” all said in my smoothest, most calming manner possible. 

“What kind of text?”

“Well, it’s one of those emergency alerts and it says that there’s a ballistic missile coming to Hawaii and that it isn’t a drill.”

“WHAT? MISSILE? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”

“It’s nothing, Mom, don’t sweat it. I’m going to head down to the beach for a front-row seat. It’s chaos everywhere and I don’t want to be surrounded by screaming men, women and children any longer. I’ll call you in a few minutes when I get the all clear.”

And that was that.

I walked about a block towards the beach before my phone rang. It was my buddy Andy on the North Shore, probably calling to tell me how peaceful it is up there. 

“It’s over, man. It was a mistake.” 

As quickly as relief could come over me, it passed right on by as I took notice of the time: 8:42. 

I was supposed to be in a shuttle to the course for our third round at 9. So I hustled back up to my high-rise room for that quick stint in the loo I had been dreaming of and a rinse and on my way. The gears had shifted so quickly from a potential nightmare to a normal day at the office that the rest of the day was a blur. It felt surreal to be out on the course, an hour later, as if nothing had ever happened. A perfect blue sky, birds chirping, a light ocean breeze and all was back to normal on the PGA Tour. 

Lots of tough guys at the course that day, claiming no chance that it was real and how they couldn’t believe anyone would believe that for a second. Maybe I understand percentages a bit better than they do, or maybe I just feel like I have a few more things that I’d like to contribute to the world before I meet my maker. Either way, I’m glad it was a false alarm and not afraid to admit that I thought there was at least a chance that it was real. 

My boss happened to catch fire the next day and post a final-round 62 that found us in a playoff with the eventual champion.  Funny how quickly the world can change. One minute you’re scrambling around town trying to find the best view for the beginning of WWIII and the next you’re on national TV trying to help your man hoist a trophy. 

What a journey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.