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Decision to proceed with Players Championship was a tough one but the right one

March 12, 2020

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — On Wednesday morning, about a dozen people, including some of the most powerful people in golf, Jay Monahan and Mike Davis among them, sat a long, shiny mahogany table in an unadorned conference room at the PGA Tour’s headquarters here.

On one nearby table were tall thermoses for coffee, regular and decaf. At another was a two-liter bottle of Purell, with a pump top.

From a ceiling speaker came the distinctive voices of Nick Price and Curtis Strange.

For nearly two-and-and-half hours, the group earnestly debated the merits of the 10 candidates up for Hall of Fame consideration, knowing the procedural rules allowed no more than four to get in. One of the candidates was Tiger Woods.

In other words, life was going on.

Elsewhere at the complex broadly known as TPC Sawgrass, Patrick Reed was giving a press conference, Dustin Johnson was playing a practice round, caddies were taking swings from the tee of the par-3 17th. Fans were strolling the Pete Dye Stadium course, guided by tournament volunteers, many of whom are retired and of a certain age.

Yes, life was going on.

President Trump addressed the nation and the world from the Oval Office at 9 p.m. Three hours later, as Wednesday turned into Thursday, the PGA Tour issued a sober, straight and sensible statement:

“The PGA Tour is aware of rapidly changing developments regarding COVID-19. With the information currently available, the Players championship will continue as scheduled, although we will absolutely continue to review recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and local health administrations. This is obviously a very fluid situation that requires constant review, communication and transparency, and we are dedicated to all three aspects.”

Now it was in writing: life was going on, pending ongoing review.

At 8:40 Thursday morning, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, three healthy young men who work outdoors, were on the 10th tee, about to start their first rounds in a tournament that has been played every year since 1974.

The U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship all lost years because of World War I and World War II. The Masters, started in 1934, was not played in 1943, ’44 and ’45, because of WWII. The Players Championship has never faced a cancellation at the hands of war, weather or disease, and so far nothing has changed. On Sunday night, if form holds, some lucky fellow will get the winner’s check for $2.7 million. He will likely keep his golf ball dry on the last two holes to get there.

Talk about keeping calm and carrying on.

PGA Tour officials will, of course, be criticized for their decision not to postpone the Tour’s flagship event in light of a health crisis. (We live in the golden age of criticism. Thanks, Twitter.) It is conceivable that, in ways detectable or not, fans, workers, players and others could contract the COVID-19 virus by attending the event. That simple act, attending a golf tournament, could lead to inconvenience, illness or death. There are legal liabilities, and complex ethical, moral and commercial considerations, in the decision to play or not to play.

The view here (this space reserved for columnizing) is that the PGA Tour has made the right decision, to play the tournament and to keep playing. The starting point for Keep Calm and Carry On, a useful phrase in all manner of situations, is to do just that.

That doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind, like a golfer tossing blades of grass to read the wind. The most important thing any of us can do amid this viral outbreak is to do what trained, experienced, independent medical professionals say to do. The elderly and the infirm have been advised to stay clear of large gatherings. If you have any symptoms at all, you should skip large gatherings. You should wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with warm water and soap through the day. You should cover your sneeze and your cough.

You should take advice from people who actually know what they are talking about.

You should get regular exercise, sleep and food.

And (it says here) you should continue with your life. Like the coffee mug says:

Keep calm and carry on.

At that Wednesday meeting, Monahan and Davis, with far more weightier issues in mind, voted for Tiger Woods, and three others, to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place at next year’s Players. Life will continue. Things will be different and there will be consequences, but life will continue.

Reed said in his Wednesday afternoon press conference that hecklers don’t bother him.

Jordan and Justin and Rickie all made pars on their first hole on Thursday morning. You can imagine the scene: The polite applause, the appreciative nod, the walk to the next tee.

On you go. With caution. That 11th hole can be nasty, a narrow par-5. So can this novel virus that’s going around this world of ours at warp speed. With caution, we proceed.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at Michael_Bamberger@Golf.com.