#AskAlan: What if the PGA Tour has to pull the plug after just a few events?
In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about the PGA Tour’s return, how players could travel to tournaments, the absence of fans at events, and more.
The coronavirus modeling report from Mass General released on Tuesday predicts big problems if the country does not stay focused for the next 12 weeks. Do you think the Tour is taking a huge risk of a massive timeline setback by pushing to host events so soon? – @joelbshaw
I’m definitely worried about this. I’d much rather sacrifice the John Deeres and 3Ms on the schedule to give us a better chance of playing the majors and Ryder Cup later in the summer/early fall. If the Tour rushes back to action and there is an outbreak of the virus among players, caddies and/or support staff, the plug would have to be pulled for a very long time to reassess protocols, repair the brand damage and restore trust among the many stakeholders. I think the position of the Tour leadership was that they had to cobble together a new schedule and be ready to go ASAP, but ultimately they will be flexible and willing to push things back further. Monahan and his deputies have made it pretty clear that widespread testing is necessary to press forward. But five weeks out from Colonial, less than 2 percent of the U.S. population has been tested, and folks like Colin Montgomerie are going on record saying that the precious few tests that currently exist shouldn’t be wasted on pro golfers. So, I’m afraid that in a few weeks, there will be a revised announcement wiping out the June and July tournaments, as the Tour continues to try to buy time.
Course length at Augusta and Winged Foot: Given they will be played in a colder season, do you believe yardage could go down? Or they will set them up at full throttle? – @pintosjavi
I’m actually excited about the possibility of the Masters and U.S. Open being played in cooler temperatures. These days, 7,500 yards is laughably short to test Tour players, especially when it’s hot and the ball is really flying. But if it’s cold and the courses are tipped out, as they should be, they will be significantly tougher tests, which I welcome.
Being able to afford being out on Tour (and especially in the lower tours) is a huge undertaking. Is there a possibility of a whole class of players being lost to this virus as marginal players find other situations that have more stability? – @frazerrice
Oh yes, that’s a major concern. The professional game is going to contract at every level. In the short- and medium-term, the PGA Tour is going to lose a ton of revenue, from lost pro-ams and ticket sales and related sources. Longer-term, it’s easy to imagine many struggling companies pulling back from pricey sponsorship deals. In this climate, will the Tour continue to underwrite the Korn Ferry Tour as well as developmental circuits across China, Latin America and Canada? Seems like something’s gotta give. The Challenge Tour in Europe could vanish, too. Fewer playing opportunities means minor-league golf will become even more cut-throat, driving away a lot of the dreamers who have always needed financial backing to make a go of it.
Walking mostly empty Pebble and Spyglass daily during the shutdown, I notice a couple of things: 1) The courses have a nice tinge of yellow/brown; 2) Both have way too much turf. Could the economic fallout change the way even top courses are maintained? – @jeffdebalko
A lot of things are going to be reassessed in the new world order. Tourism is going to be down for a long time … maybe forever. A large percentage of the population is going to have less discretionary income. All of this means golf courses are going to feel the hurt and have to streamline their operations. In California, water costs were putting courses out of business even before the ’rona. I think that, nationwide, a lot of turf is going to be ripped out and turned into hazards or scrubby natural grass — either requires less upkeep and less water, helping courses get by with the smaller maintenance budgets that are becoming inevitable.
What is the Golf Lobby doing to get courses re-opened in lockdown states? – @Bag_bandigt
The Golf Lobby is basically a bunch of us whining on Twitter. So, nothing. But it’s a delicate balance. Those of us who are golfers know how healthy and cathartic it is/would be to walk in nature and enjoy the wondrous mind-body challenge the game presents. We all desperately need exercise and stimulation and fun right now. But golf is always battling charges of elitism and point-missing so if parks and beaches and other public spaces are closed it’s horrible optics to push too hard for the reopening of golf courses. Already the game seems to be coming back online in most jurisdictions. I think a little patience is prudent right now.
#AskAlan Why has the quarantine brought on an extra longing for Anthony Kim while David Gossett and Garrett Willis get no love? – @JustShake
We all need escapism right now, and AK has become as much a mythical figure as Gandalf, or Voldemort. Gossett and Willis are interesting case studies — I wrote a long feature about the former and edited a juicy story on the latter — but in the end both are just golfers who lost their way, which happens. AK is an endless fascination because he was already a singular talent and personality, and the mysteries surrounding his disappearance endure to this day.
If someone wins the U.S. Open, PGA and Masters this year, will that count as winning the Grand Slam? #AskAlan – @wareagle1991
No, just like what Tiger Woods did in 2000-01 did not count as winning the Grand Slam. We needed new nomenclature for Woods’ achievement: the Tiger Slam. If all three majors get played this year and someone wins them all, we could call it the Corona Slam, but that might have a negative connotation. How about the Hogan Slam? In 1953, the great Ben Hogan won the only three majors he entered that year, because the long trip to Carnoustie made it impossible for him to compete in the PGA Championship. I like the ring of that.
Given San Francisco’s inability to manage affordable housing, and their crippling homeless situation BEFORE coronavirus hit, isn’t it best that they close all their public golf courses (save Gleneagles) and build triage housing? – @Laz_versalles
Who knew Malcolm Gladwell uses a burner to spam #AskAlan? I fully support affordable housing and long-term solutions to the homeless crisis. I agree that new construction is desperately needed in San Francisco (and many other urban settings). One of my favorite day trips with my kiddos is to ride bikes in Golden Gate Park and then cross the bridge to explore the Marin Headlands. Each spot has vast amounts of acreage, and we often encounter few other people. If you want to build low-cost housing, carve out some space there. Why do golf courses — which bring pleasure to thousands of people every month while generating lots of revenue for the city — have to be sacrificed?
How much will you miss “get in the hole guy” now that fans probably won’t be in attendance the rest of the year? #AskAlan – @War_Eagle1991
Not in the slightest, obviously. This is one danger to playing without fans — it might be a lot better! The players are going to love the lack of autograph seekers and on-course bellowers and stray cellphones going off at the wrong time. There will be no traffic getting in and out of the host venue. Viewers at home will be treated to clean telecasts minus all the obnoxious fans trying to be heard, and the courses will look cleaner and less cluttered without all the bleachers and port-a-potties and other infrastructure required to service tens of thousands of fans. For sure, we’ll miss the energy of the crowd when someone does something spectacular, but on the whole it might be a better product on a weekly basis. Obviously the majors and Ryder Cup will be lacking a lot of important ambiance, but those are a small percentage of the schedule.
If we see the three American majors adapt, overcome and be played, will the R&A get the criticism it deserves for caving so quickly? – @GrantLeigh3
There will be some, for sure, because of those old boys’ instinct to take the (insurance) money and run. But these are unparalleled times and we are all having to make difficult decisions in real-time, so I don’t think we should be too tough on the dandruffy fellows at the R&A. They had a much smaller window to get the Open done in the autumn because the days get short and cold that far north. And would jittery, persnickety American pros want to fly that long in the recirculated air of a commercial plane? (It’s wickedly expensive to fly private overseas.) All in all, the R&A made a tough call, and I can live with it.
What percentage of pro players will go old-school and drive an RV place-to-place to play as travel is the biggest issue going forward with the Tour? Limits the interaction of planes and keeps social distancing. – @JakeLebahn
Not only that, you have a kitchen that allows you to control the food prep, no maids are breathing on your bedding and you don’t have to share elevators or other public spaces as in a hotel. I think this is going to become a very popular option on Tour going forward.
Those two, definitely. I’d add Faldo, Seve and Trevino, each of whom I caught near the end of their careers. Hogan would certainly belong on such a list. Bobby Jones, too.
Will Rory eventually go down in history as one of the greatest to ever have played the game …? – @Capdantibes
He’s got a chance, that’s for sure. Ballesteros and Byron Nelson are all-time legends, with five major championship victories, and Rory is just one behind them. If McIlroy gets to six he’s caught Trevino and Faldo. Seven is really rarified air: Palmer, Snead, Sarazen. Rory has already done a ton in the game, winning around the world, reaching world No. 1 and taking various POYs and FedEx Cup championships. Going forward is the majors that will further define his legacy.
Could an event played on a short course with a standard, limited-distance ball gain popularity? – @davidrgoodman
I doubt it. Do you really want to watch Dustin Johnson drive it 180 yards?
How many people in the world can settle the bar argument: Pine Valley or Augusta National? Follow up question, how do you become one of them? – @mvf510
Pine Valley is more awe-inspiring and has more individual holes that you’ll think about for the rest of your life, while Augusta National is a more fun, non-stop thrill ride. There are probably more folks than you think who have played both, but still far too few. Best way to become one of them is to invent a time machine and put a few of your ancestors on the Mayflower … or become a golf writer.
I’m in need of new irons. Mine are very old and have been very good to me. What should I look for? Brand?#AskAlan – @FIGJAM27
This is a highly personal question, and you would be wise to test out a bunch of brands. Mizuno and Miura are as beautiful as the finest jewelry, while Ping and Callaway and TaylorMade and Titleist all have many excellent game-improvement models, but I am a single-length zealot and would implore you to test the Cobras or, if you can afford it, Edel Golf.
You never answer me…should I continue to bet on Henrik Stenson in majors? – @yrrapdivad
Haha, um, well, he’s 44 and hasn’t won a tournament in nearly three calendar years. I love the guy, but it’s probably time to cut the cord.
You can choose only one for the rest of 2020: PGA Tour back up and running for your viewing pleasure, or you get to play as much as you like. #askalan – @Fugey2
Hmmm, tough one. I miss golf terribly, but I think I’ll take one for the team here and get the Tour back on track. It would be a massive boost to the entire golf industry, bring joy to untold millions and help feed my family. Seems more important than me going out and shooting a few 81s.