Regular golf fans will recall the eerie scenes at TPC Sawgrass in March when the PLAYERS Championship was abandoned after the first round as it emerged just how bad the coronavirus pandemic was in the USA.
Fast forward three months, and while the situation is still dire in many countries the general consensus is that we are just about getting over the worst of it.
However, there is still a debate to be had as to whether elite-level sport has returned too quickly, and the PGA Tour – one of the last sporting organisers to bow down to COVID-19 – is back in the spotlight after a disastrous couple of weeks from a PR perspective.
First, Nick Watney tested positive for coronavirus midway through the RBC Heritage, and he immediately withdrew from the event. The problem, it seems, is that the pros haven’t been taking the situation all that seriously, with many socialising with one another away from the course and interacting closely at the driving range and around the venue.
Rory McIlroy confirmed that he had spent some time with Watney at the Harbour Town Links around the time of his positive test, but the Irishman refuses to blame the 39-year-old or the PGA Tour for the disarray.
“There’s been almost 3,000 tests administered. The percentage of positive tests, it’s a quarter of a percent. I think, as a whole, it’s been going really well,” he said.
However, much worse to come.
This week the Tour headed to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship, and the tournament was hit with disaster when more players or caddies tested positive. Cameron Champ, the huge-hitting winner of the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Safeway Open, returned a positive test as did Ken Comboy and Rickie Elliott, the caddies of Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka respectively.
The Irishman and the four-time major winner withdrew from the Travelers Championship immediately, as did Koepka’s brother Chase, with whom he’s been spending a lot of time. And then Webb Simpson, winner of the RBS Heritage, withdrew after one of his family members tested positive.
There were calls for the tournament to be cancelled, but the PGA Tour has pressed on regardless. And that begs the question: what will it take for them to get serious about the coronavirus?
How is the PGA Tour Managing COVID-19?
When you have 156 players or more on a site, each of whom has a caddie, and when you factor in various officials and media personnel that is 400 or more individuals on a golf course at a single time.
Is the spread inevitable?
The PGA Tour has opted for a ‘mutual’ strategy in tackling the virus, with the players accountable for their own actions alongside adhering to safety protocol that officials have put in place.
PGA Tour head honcho Jay Monaghan has spoken of ‘serious repercussions’ for anyone breaking the rules, which include a regimented charter of travel and activity – with only people inside the Tour’s ‘bubble’ allowed; there’s strict testing procedures before, during and after events; and the players are asked to where a WHOOP bracelet that records data on activity, recovery, respiratory rates and sleep patterns. Anybody recording an abnormality is asked to report to the Tour’s medical professionals.
It all sounds rigorous and exacting enough, but will more positive tests spell the end of PGA Tour golf for the immediate future?