What’s one enduring lesson of the Covid era? Some pros are just made for crisis mode

Billy Horschel

When the Players Championship was canceled after one round, Billy Horschel helped distribute the tournament's unused food to people in need.

Courtesy of FNEFL

Once it became clear that the 2020 Players Championship would be canceled due to the Covid-19 crisis, Billy Horschel wondered, “What’s going to happen to all of the food that was supposed to feed 200,000 fans?” 

On the day he should have been teeing it up for round two of what he called “our championship,” Horschel was on the TPC Sawgrass loading docks filling trucks with food that would help feed children, families and veterans who rely on charitable organizations to put meals on the table. In addition to donating his $52,000 share of The Players purse payout to charity, Horschel, with his wife, Brittany, and their two daughters, helped organize the donation of 22 tons of food to Feeding Northeast Florida. 

As of May, tournaments from Hilton Head and Charlotte to Austin and New Orleans have been shut down due to the pandemic. Though fans are disappointed they won’t see their favorites compete at Quail Hollow or Innisbrook this season, what many don’t realize is the broader impact of the cancellation of these events.

“These tournaments spend a lot of money to get ready,” says veteran Tour pro Ryan Palmer. “A lot of them had their build-outs already, their grandstands, their hospitality tents. Often, the money raised from merchandise, food and beverage sales goes to their local charities. And that’s now lost.”

In all, nine PGA Tour events have been canceled as of press time — events that traditionally generate close to $525 million in charitable giving. To help ease the shortfall, Palmer stepped up to create Pros for a Purpose, a platform that allows anyone in the PGA Tour community to donate to an impacted tournament and its respective charities. “I thought, what a great way for people to come together — players, sponsors, volunteers and our great fans,” Palmer says. “They can now all get involved.” The Palmer family kicked things off with a donation of $20,000.

With their season on hold, many pros and their families are, in their own way, continuing to carry on the Tour’s tradition of philanthropy.

“I don’t get nervous about a lot; I’m pretty calm and collected about most things,” says 17-time Tour winner Jim Furyk. “But this has hit me.” 

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At home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., with his wife, Tabitha, and their two young children, Furyk has been passing the time fishing with his kids and introducing them to movies like Good Will Hunting. But the family has also put the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation into overdrive to help in a multitude of ways families affected by Covid-19. From providing snacks and refurbished computers to students in the Duval County, Fla., school system to helping Tabitha’s brother-in-law use his citrus distillery to distribute hand sanitizer, the Furyks’ effort has been a family affair. The couple has even organized baby showers in a box for expectant mothers. “A lot of these moms-to-be are in need of supplies,” says Furyk. “They don’t want to be out there in the public and risk getting sick, and a lot of the supplies are actually sold out. So we’re trying to work with different vendors to send supplies off to the moms.”

For Aussie pro Marc Leishman, the Covid-19 outbreak, and the havoc the virus wreaks on the body, has hit extremely close to home. Five years ago this spring, Leishman’s wife, Audrey, was clinging to life in a hospital bed. Suffering from toxic shock syndrome, she was fighting off infection when her breathing became difficult. The then-31-year-old mother of two had developed ARDS — acute respiratory distress syndrome. It’s the same complication that Covid-19 has inflicted on thousands of people around the world. Audrey was placed on a ventilator while in a coma and survived her ordeal with her family at her side, but the Leishmans know that’s not the case for many Covid-19 patients. 

“I was there for Audrey,” says Leishman, who raced home from the 2015 Masters to be with his wife. “And I can’t imagine not being allowed in the hospital. People are dying and they can’t have their loved ones with them. When you get ARDS, you know you’re dying. Audrey had a pretty good idea that she wasn’t going to make it when she got put into the coma, and maybe me being there was some type of comfort for her.”

Audrey, now fully recovered, and Marc are using their Begin Again Foundation to help those affected by Covid-19 in their adopted home of Virginia Beach, Va. Along with purchasing thousands of masks for grocery-store workers, the Leishmans have been providing meals to hospital personnel. “The doctors and nurses are run off their feet,” Leishman says. “This gives them a chance to just sit down, have a quick bite and get back to work. Obviously, they’re going through tough times at the moment. We want to make it as easy as we can for them.”

The PGA Tour slogan has never had more meaning: “These guys are good.”

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