Why golf should call off the four majors, and host a single unifying event instead

March 16, 2020
(Original Caption) Ben Hogan of Hershey, Pennsylvania, who fired a 72 in the first round of the Hale America Open at the Ridgemoor Country Club, came back in the second round with a 10-below-par 62 for the lowest 18-hole score ever recorded in the National Golf Competition. Hogan proudly points to his record score as an admiring crowd looks on.

In 1942, the world was burning.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor in the previous December had brought America into the conflict, making it once and for all a true world war. With the death toll mounting and the gravity of the war sinking in at home, golf began shutting down. The Masters played its last event for four years. The Open Championship was in the midst of a six-year break, and Interlachen Country Club, the planned site of that year’s U.S. Open, opted not to serve as the host course.

This was wartime, but as so often happens in extraordinary times, it prompted extraordinary actions.

For the good of the country, for the game and for the soldiers fighting abroad, the USGA and PGA of America joined together to host a singular event: the Hale America Open. A small but noble gesture, this was to be our wartime major championship — a chance to forget for a moment the angst and play a game, to provide a small ray of sunshine through the clouds that shrouded the allied world.

Crowd watches Ben Hogan sink a put during the final round of the Hale America Open at the Ridgemoor Country Club. Hogan, Golf's top money winner for the past three years, took the $1,000 winner's purse with 271 score for 72 holes.
Crowd watches Ben Hogan sink a put during the final round of the Hale America Open at the Ridgemoor Country Club. Hogan, Golf's top money winner for the past three years, took the $1,000 winner's purse with 271 score for 72 holes.

Make no mistake, 2020 is not 1942. Suggesting so would be a disservice to the Greatest Generation. Yet the enormity of the current situation shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

The war we currently wage is one of prevention.

Health officials tell us COVID-19 is not an untreatable virus, but it’s an overwhelming one. It’s both more deadly and more contagious than the flu, spreading ruthlessly and attacking the lungs of our most vulnerable to devastating effect. It’s so contagious that it can quickly tax healthcare systems of entire countries. That’s when the fatalities spike, as they have in Italy, where the fatality rate surpasses 16 percent for those over the age of 80.

And so, with potentially millions of lives on the line, we rapidly disassemble our once-roaring economy brick by brick and shutter ourselves indoors to protect one other.

It’s the right thing to do, and it’s why golf, for the foreseeable future, has hit pause. When we assess the current landscape, we find a bleak picture.

The Players Championship was cancelled after one day.

The Masters has been postponed indefinitely.

The PGA Championship, scheduled to be played in San Francisco, barely falls outside the timeframe of the CBC’s latest recommendation to cancel events of 50 or more people.

Winged Foot, the site of this year’s U.S. Open, is in one of the most contaminated areas of the country, prompting the state governor to surround the city, and the course, in a one-mile containment zone.

The Open Championship, in July, has the most time, but also the most challenges to overcome. The U.S. has banned all travel to the UK, and with cases increasing, the CDC has named Europe as the new “epicenter” of the virus.

Optimistic golf fans harbor hopes that things will return to normal in short order. A fall Masters sounds fun! Maybe the PGA gets moved to Bandon Dunes! Let’s move everything later in the year and have an epic Fall Swing!

I hope they’re right, but the reality suggests otherwise.

Modeling suggests the peak of U.S. infections may not hit until mid-July, and there’s little evidence that warm weather can curtail this disease as it does the flu.

Fans, collectively, must realize it’s more likely that no majors get played this year than one.

Which brings us back to 1942.

Rather than adopting a wait-and-see approach, leaving each of the four remaining majors in an independent state of limbo, let’s learn from the the Greatest Generation, which overcame even greater obstacles. Let’s have the PGA Tour, Augusta National, PGA of America, USGA and R&A join together in a show of strength and unity by jointly calling off all the majors for this year — playing one without the others doesn’t feel fair or right — with a plan to reboot them in 2021.

Instead of rushing through, at best, two majors, let’s come together for a single, unifying event — a one-time championship that would be recognized as a major, as the Hale America Open was. The tournament could be conducted in the fall, giving the governing bodies as much time as possible to pull it together, and played at an iconic venue that’s rooted in the game’s history. Augusta National, perhaps, or St. Andrews. A portion of the proceeds can and should go to a good cause, as did Ben Hogan’s winner’s check: $1,000 worth of War Bonds.

All the majors, rolled into one for a single year, in these extraordinary times.

It’s an ambitious plan, but an imperative one, because it would remove golfers from this cycle of uncertainty and fear. Instead of being forced to react to forces we do not fully understand and cannot control, it would give golf something hopeful to look forward to and celebrate when the time comes.

To come together, as one, for the good of the game and those who love playing it.

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