The PGA Tour will continue playing The Players Championship, its marquee tournament, this weekend, but without fans in attendance, starting Friday.
Latest statement from PGA Tour on Coronavirus pandemic. Press conference now pic.twitter.com/QkRlVNb31I— Brian Wacker (@brianwacker1) March 12, 2020
The ban on fans will include the remainder of this week’s tournament, as well as the Valspar Championship, the WGC Match Play event, and the Valero Texas Open ... in other words, tournaments right up to the Masters.
Earlier in the week, the Tour drew heat from what both players and observers thought was an insufficient response. Just after midnight Thursday morning, a few hours after the NBA suspended its season due to coronavirus concerns, and a few hours before the world’s best golfers were slated to tee off at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour released a statement on the prospects for the next day:
“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. The PGA TOUR will provide an additional update by 12 p.m. ET on Thursday.
“In the meantime, players in the field have been notified to be prepared to play round 1, as scheduled.
“Fans who no longer wish to attend THE PLAYERS Championship may request a refund or exchange; details on how to do so will be announced shortly.”
In other words … business as usual. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 fans gathered at TPC Sawgrass Thursday morning — or would if this were a normal tournament day — and the only new restriction the Tour apparently leveled was a ban on autographs:
It’s early but TPC Sawgrass feels like a bit of a ghost town. Plus, this new sign pic.twitter.com/qqxo7dxYtm— Brian Wacker (@brianwacker1) March 12, 2020
That didn’t sit too well with at least one player: former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, who fired off a bit of perspective just before his morning tee time:
Rest of sports and media: why don’t they drug test on the @PGATOUR— Lucas Glover (@Lucas_Glover_) March 12, 2020
Tour: okay, we better start doing that too.
Rest of sports and media: think we better stop and stay away from crowds.
Tour: hold our beers it’s @THEPLAYERSChamp week!!!
And here’s swing coach Hank Haney:
Shocked is the word. Literally, shocked, they're playing.— Hank Haney (@HankHaney) March 12, 2020
Click the link below to hear our emergency podcast we recorded late last night about leagues suspending their seasons:https://t.co/NpL0haieRZ pic.twitter.com/ht5RpcDyfT
Longtime golf writer Geoff Shackelford went even further: “Just as with the coronavirus, signs of impending trouble apparently do not penetrate the Ponte Vedra [PGA Tour HQ] bubble,” he wrote. “When dissent is so strongly discouraged and executives must pass conformity examinations before getting hired, a culture of fear is bound to develop. That a decision on Thursday’s opening round was not even made until after midnight is one thing, but to only offer refunds and not take more aggressive action, could end up looking like willful neglect.”
Golf tournaments do have some inherent factors that mitigate risk; they’re outdoors, of course, and those 40,000 to 50,000 people aren’t all crowded in one location. But there’s still substantial opportunity for infection to leap from person to person. Plus, one of golf’s key constituencies is older—and, in this pandemic, most vulnerable—fans.
As for that other marquee tournament scheduled in the next few weeks? No news yet, but soon:
Just got a text from an Augusta National member: “I believe the tournament will be played. Discussions are ongoing. Limiting patrons seems likely. Might be none at all. Closing practice rounds, canceling the Par-3...everything is on the table. Expect an announcement next week.”— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) March 12, 2020
S/he also noted: “If the numbers spike that changes everything.” Meaning that here in the U.S. we’re hardly testing anyone; if we begin widespread COVID testing in the next week or two the math says the number of diagnosed cases will rapidly rise. That changes the debate/optics.— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) March 12, 2020
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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