#AskAlan: Does the PGA Tour have a Covid-19 tipping point?

Justin Thomas

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about the PGA Tour’s response to positive Covid tests at tournament sites, why Tiger hasn’t teed it up yet, whether the Masters should change its name, and more.

What’s up with no Tiger? —@CodyColorado

He’s playing the long game. If the show goes on, there’s a ton of important golf from early-August to mid-November so Tiger wants to make sure his body holds up. Beyond that, I think he is wisely sitting back and letting the Tour work out all the kinks in learning how to conduct tournaments in the Covid era. Tiger has always existed in a bubble of his own making and all the new rules and protocols are highly disruptive for such a persnickety personality. Why deal with all the hassles when he can chill at home with his kids and dogs and work on his game in his wondrous backyard?

How many positive tests do you think would it take to shut down a tournament/pause the schedule? —@WallDwarf

I fear we’re going to find out soon. The attrition in Hartford continues, and, given the incubation period of up to 14 days, the Tour has yet to feel the full effects of conducting a tournament amid the spring break atmosphere in Hilton Head. Commissioner Jay Monahan has refused to say what the threshold is for pulling the plug, which I understand. The decision-making doesn’t take place in a vacuum. When the PGA Tour was doing all the hard work to reconfigure its schedule the U.S. economy was largely shut down and the citizenry was sheltered in place. The Tour pressed forward forward, optimistically and ambitiously. It’s bad luck and bad timing that the tournaments restarted just as economic pain and politics compelled the “reopening” of public life and Americans collectively decided we were tired of fighting the virus.

With infection rates now spiking in 30 states, how long can the Tour play on? Most of the players live in raging hot-spot states Florida, Texas and Arizona. Many or even most of the pros are being vigilant but the traveling entourages are simply too big to control the spread of the virus. It’s not an accident that caddies figured in some of Hartford’s W/Ds. The loopers are subject to much less scrutiny than the players but they can just as easily bring the virus inside the ropes. The Tour lost two of the top-five players in the world at Hartford but played on. A lot of big-name players are now skipping next week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic; could be fatigue, or existential dread. In recent days we have seen even the most recalcitrant governors finally begin to acknowledge we are in the midst of a public health crisis and begin to take action. As infection rates continue to climb it is bad optics for the Tour to continue to barnstorm the country, taking Covid tests and other resources from the host communities. At what point does it become irresponsible? No wonder Monahan looks so hollowed-out these days.

Should the Masters change its name back to the Augusta National Invitational Tournament? #askalan —@GolfingBrock

In the wake of all the recent social justice protests there has been a lot of talk about listening to and learning from perspectives that differ from your own. It never occurred to me that the Masters name is offensive to some people but now that it’s been pointed out I can certainly understand it, especially since Augusta National feels like the reproduction of an Old South plantation that has been airlifted in from Epcot Center. It would be a gesture of incredible sensitivity and inclusion for the green jackets to acknowledge the pain attached to the name of their tournament and go back to the original wording. It’s worth noting that Bobby Jones was never a fan of renaming his little invitational — he was embarrassed by the ostentatiousness of “Masters” and knew it wasn’t even accurate, since no one ever really masters golf.

Is it time to give Webb Simpson his due?! Stacked field and he came out firing on the back 9 in the final round — might be a big rest of the year for him. #AskAlan —@EdNolan220

For a long time Webb was the most underrated player in golf. Suddenly, he’s becoming overrated! The truth is that from 150 yards in he’s the most efficient and reliable player in the game. Obviously he doesn’t have the same firepower off the tee as other top players but the rest of Webb’s game has become so good, he’s now a threat every time he tees it up.

It looks like no Ryder Cup, you should be relieved! Question: Do you believe summer conditions (grass/temperature) were the clue to Harbor Town playing as accessible as never before? #AskAlan

If the Cup gets postponed, as seems imminent based on various published reports, I’m not sure which team it helps. Certainly playing it with no fans would have erased almost all of the home-field advantage. Beyond that, Europe’s core over the last decade-plus (Rose, Stenson, Garcia, Poulter) will just keep getting creakier but it also allows more reps for young players like Viktor Hovland and Matt Wallace to fill the void (and Fleetwood and Molinari more time to rediscover their winning touch). For the U.S., an extra year further removes the unpleasantness of Paris. It allows Phil and Tiger to gracefully transition from players to cart drivers (finally!) and hopefully gives Jordan Spieth enough runway to find his game; he was one of the few Yanks to show any fight at Le National and should be a team leader, despite his traditional struggles in singles. My much ballyhooed prediction of long-term American dominance was based in part on the age disparity in the teams. I still think Paris will be remembered as the last stand for a generation of mighty Euros and that the U.S. will dominate the ’20s. But chemistry is an elusive, ephemeral thing and we all know that has been the key to Europe’s remarkable success.

Collin Morikawa had an impressive streak come to a close at the Travelers Championship
By: Zephyr Melton

As for Hilton Head, it has been fascinating to see the effect of the Tour visiting traditional venues but at different times of year. The summer heat in South Carolina, rather than cooler spring temperatures, forced the greens to be watered more, and that’s all it takes for Tour players to shred even the proudest of courses. Bryson and his brethren have also put to lie the notion that short, tight, tree-lined courses will force big hitters to throttle back. As at Colonial the week before, these caveman golfers simply hit the ball over the trees and doglegs, taking lines off the tee that would have once been unfathomable.

Was there ever any consideration to playing Tour events at elite courses that unfortunately won’t work for tour events? Bandon Dunes/Cabot Links to name a few in North America? —@KeithKhorton

No, since the schedule was already locked in, including the venues. But if the Tour has to pause again it might be time to reimagine its business model in the short-term. Instead of traveling every week, why not post up at Bandon for five straight weeks and play an event on each of the excellent courses there? Then come to the 831 and play another five-week bender at Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill, Bayonet and Pasatiempo? Pinehurst, Long Island, Northern Michigan … the Tour could construct an incredible schedule while largely eliminating air travel.

Bryson put on the weight/muscle first and foremost because of the Brooks Confrontation, right?  It’s a bonus it seems to also have helped his game.  Brooks was the favorite before, but wouldn’t you take Bryson now? #askalan —@mjcostel27

I’ve thought about this, too! That was certainly an emasculating moment for Bryson, and I have no doubt that helped send him to the gym. Don’t forget, it was vanity that compelled Tiger to bulk up, too. Bryson has overdone it, as is his wont, and is now reaping the on-course benefits. The question becomes when will his body start breaking down, as happened to Tiger.

Bryson DeChambeau debuted a beefy new physique at the Charles Schwab Challenge. Getty Images

#AskAlan: I enjoyed your look back at the 1994 U.S. Open. I always felt bad that Ernie was eclipsed by Tiger as golf’s wunderkin. Without Phil’s personality, he got lost in the Tigermania. Fair?

There is a virulent strain of Golf Twitter that considers Ernie the second-best player of the Tiger era, eclipsing Phil and Vijay. I lean toward Mickelson but have deep admiration for Els’s worldwide record. But while Phil, Woods and Singh are all polarizing in their own way, Els is universally beloved. That’s gotta count for something.

How much easier is the weekly schedule on players given the restrictions at events? I’m guessing they have more time for relaxing, focusing on key areas, no pro-ams? #AskAlan

No autograph seekers, no braying yahoos on every tee box, no unctuous reporters asking for interviews, no traffic to/from the course, entourage-free practice areas … this is basically heaven for Tour pros, other than the cotton swabs tickling their brains and the concerns that come with playing golf amidst a pandemic, if such a thing worries them at all.

Driver versus 3-wood: What should you really hit off the tee?
By: Andrew Tursky

Harbor Town Golf Links is a beautiful, iconic and memorable design but past its prime for today’s players and equipment. Agree? #AskAlan

Every course on the planet has been rendered obsolete by modern distance gains. To offer any challenge at all requires an extreme, over-the-top setup and/or good luck with the weather, bringing steady winds and allowing for brick-hard greens. A few years ago I started saying that to test modern Tour pros a course needed to be 9,000-10,000 yards. People thought I was crazy but that’s now looking like a conservative estimate.

After his runner-up finish and overall play recently is Abe Ancer the best player on tour sans title or BPOTST as the kids call it….#askalan —@SonOfAFitch

I sincerely hope the kids do not call it that.

#askAlan, What was the name of Joaquin Niemann’s punk/ska band in high school? (I mean just look at him. You just know he was in a punk band…) —@Laz_Versalles

Hosel Rocket.

Why is it so bad that a PGA Tour players uses profanity? It’s just a word. —@TheGhostOfHogan

Part of the joy of The Last Dance was all the profanity — it was like listening to great jazz musicians jamming together. It’s always a delight when the boom mics capture Tour players cursing; it’s real, raw, relatable and offers a little insight to who they really are. In the age of rap music and the Internet, even kids are awash in profanity. (My sweet, innocent 13-year-old daughter can spit all the R-rated rhymes of Playboi Carti and Ski Mask the Slump God.) It’s time for the Tour and the networks to give the people what they want: more F-bombs.

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