6 questions facing the PGA Tour before it can hold a tournament again

April 17, 2020

Consider it a tee time.

The PGA Tour knows when it’s playing following its hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic – June 11. It knows where it’s playing – Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, home of the Charles Schwab Challenge.

The PGA Tour knows why it’s playing.

“I love that the @pgatour put something out there,” the world’s fourth-ranked player, Justin Thomas, wrote on his social media accounts on Thursday. “If it happens or not is an unknown since everyone’s safety remains the top priority, but to have them put the effort to show us a plan is great. I’d rather have something to look forward to, understanding it may change than look back and say, ‘Wow I wish we would have had a plan if things got better.’”

How will the PGA Tour play? The questions as the PGA Tour heads to the first tee:

Will all of the players return?

According to the New York Times on Thursday, more than 2 million people globally have been sickened by the coronavirus, and more than 135,000 have died. A vaccine has not yet been discovered. Will Tou players want to return?

Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief tournament and competitions officer, says players are “eager.”

“I will tell you that most of our players, if not every one of them, are eager,” Pazder said Thursday. “They’re anxious to get back to doing what they do best.”

Of course, “most” are not all. Just over a month ago, pro C.T. Pan withdrew from the first round of the Players Championship because of his concerns over the coronavirus for him and his family – and the night after that round, the Tour began its hiatus. What if players don’t want to return?

“My only experience with anything like this, I guess, would be the first few tournaments following 9/11,” Pazder said “We had players that were uneasy about air travel. That’s one of the beauties of being a PGA Tour member – you’re an independent contractor; you’re not required to be at any PGA Tour event. So they have that discretion to play tournaments where they favor the golf course, or tournaments in this instance, to your question, they may or may not feel comfortable. But that’s an individual player decision.”

There are also international players who could have trouble returning to the U.S. due to travel restrictions. Pazder said there are about 25 players and 35 caddies who face that situation, and that the PGA Tour is “paying very close attention to if and when those restrictions are changed.”

“We have our team that is overseeing all the tournaments evaluating that question and a host of other questions as part of a risk analysis that we do for every tournament,” Tyler Dennis, the PGA Tour’s chief of operations, said Thursday.

How will the PGA Tour work with cities – and their various restrictions – across the country?

Cities and states across the country have enacted different restrictions due to the coronavirus. For example, in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said “the prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. How will the PGA Tour handle these differences?

“If we’re able to determine that we can conduct the Charles Schwab Challenge and subsequent events in compliance with all health regulations, local, state and federal, health regulations, and if we’re comfortable that our protocol, testing protocol and on-site procedures give us a confidence level, that we’re going to proceed with our tournaments,” said Pazder, who added that he has not yet spoken to the mayor of Fort Worth. “We will not do anything – we will not conduct our tournaments if the answers to those previous questions aren’t yes, we are confident.”

Will players and everyone associated with a tournament be tested for the coronavirus?

Will players and everyone associated with a tournament be tested for the coronavirus? Yes. How? Stay tuned.

“We’re following very closely through the assistance of our expert medical advisors the development of more large-scale testing capabilities, more rapid-response type tests, whether it’s through finger pricks, testing for antibodies. We obviously are aware that the FDA recently approved use of a saliva-based test,” Pazder said. “It gives us confidence that we will be able to develop a strong testing protocol that will mitigate risk as much as we possibly can. We know that there will also be further developments over the next eight weeks before we were to resume play.”

What if someone tests positive? As of today, no players on the PGA Tour have.

“That question is not something I can answer yet, but it’s something we’re evaluating closely,” Dennis said.

Will there be any changes on the golf course?

As the coronavirus has spread, golf courses have taken steps to help avoid touching objects around the course. The USGA is accepting scores played with raised cups for handicap purposes. Will PGA Tour events be played differently?

“We can apply some of those same principles to golf on the PGA Tour,” Dennis said.”So anyway, from the driving range to the first tee, all kinds of little details, scorecards and bunker rakes and flagsticks and how we can make sure all that is done in a socially distanced way and make sure that things stay safe and clean and sanitized. So there’s a big project going on to think about those details.”

When will fans be allowed?

The Tour will play its first four events without fans. From there, it “will continue to monitor the situation and follow the recommendations of local and state authorities in order to determine the most appropriate on-site access in each market.”

In short, stand by. Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor who is an expert in preventive medicine and infectious diseases, told the New York Times that “a return to normal” might not be until a vaccine is found.

“Degrees of social distancing are going to have to be part of our norm until that time,” Schaffner said. “We may whittle them down, make modifications and compromises, but social distancing will have to remain.”

How safe will it be for players to travel to tournaments?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the faces of the fight against the coronavirus, was asked Wednesday whether Major League Baseball, college football or the NFL could return this season. He said “there’s a way of doing that.”

“Nobody comes to the stadium,” Fauci said during the interview with Snapchat. ”Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled. But have them tested every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

Golfers will also have to navigate airports. Through the Masters on Nov. 15, professional golf will be played in 26 cities. And a large percentage of players are flying commercial, pro Joel Dahmen tweeted on Wednesday.

“I’m amazed how many people on Twitter think that every Tour player flies private,” tweeted Dahmen, who replied to another tweet that about 10 percent of players do.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the health and safety of everyone involved with golf was the Tour’s “No. 1 priority.”

“We will resume competition only when – working closely with our tournaments, partners and communities – it is considered safe to do so under the guidance of the leading public health authorities,” he said in a release.

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