The PGA Tour's planned return to action after the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports is now a month away, and decisions are looming. Sometime this week, an announcement is expected concerning the status of the first event scheduled as part of the restart -- including whether it will even be played. And if so, how it will work.
It's been more than three weeks since the tour unveiled plans to resume its schedule at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, beginning June 11. It also unveiled a revised schedule that takes the tour through early December.
"I'm 120% comfortable and confident. I'd start next week if I could," said Justin Thomas, a member of the tour's player advisory council who has been having frequent conference calls to get updated on the situation. "I know the tour is not going to let us start and [would] not be running tournaments if they didn't think it was safe and smart.
"It's unbelievable the work they have put into all of these plans and thought processes."
Undoubtedly, the task of getting back to playing competitive golf in the wake of the pandemic is monumental.
The tour shut down on March 12 after the first round of the Players Championship. A total of nine tournament weeks have been missed, costing the tour untold millions of dollars, while local charities suffer without donations and players whose livelihoods depend on competing in tournaments are unable to earn an income.
This week was supposed to be the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco; it has been rescheduled to Aug. 6-9, and two other major championships also have been moved: the U.S. Open to September and the Masters to November. The Open was canceled and will be played in July 2021 at Royal St. George's.
But there is a wide range of sentiment as to what should and should not be done. Pat Perez is one player who still has questions and wonders whether just one month from now is too soon. He is fully understanding of the desire to get back to work and plans to be in Fort Worth.
And yet, in a conversation with tour commissioner Jay Monahan, Perez asked why go forward if everything isn't exactly right.
"I am in favor of all the testing," he said. "I think that's a great thing and is very important. But there will still be risk."
What we know
The first four events -- the Charles Schwab Challenge, RBC Heritage, Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Championship -- will be played without spectators. The John Deere Classic, July 9-12, is scheduled to be played with spectators, although that could change.
The Memorial Tournament, which is scheduled for July 16-19, is planning for spectators at Muirfield Village, with fewer fans allowed and distancing measures put in place with a tracking device on badges. "At any time, we can know, around the golf course, how many people are collecting in a certain area," said tournament director Dan Sullivan in an interview on the Greater Columbus Virtual Sports Report.
Players, caddies, tournament officials and tour employees will be tested. How often has yet to be decided, but last week, tour player Brendon Todd unveiled some of the details that had been passed down to that point -- subject to change.
"I feel comfortable they will be doing a really good job of testing," Todd said. "It sounds like each person will be tested, even the walking scorers, the officials, to make sure we are COVID(-19)-free and healthy. I feel good with that process. I'm really excited to get back to playing."
Todd said players, caddies, tournament officials are being asked to get tested before traveling and will be subject to at least two tests on site.
Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price said that the city has coordinated with the tournament, the PGA Tour and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to conduct the tests, with players and caddies being tested at their hotel.
"I am very optimistic we can pull this off," said Price, who also said she expected Gov. Greg Abbott to lift restrictions on restaurants in Texas to allow for 50% capacity, with social distancing measures still in place.
There will likely be a designated hotel for players and caddies so as to minimize their contact with those outside of the tournament.
Although there will be no spectators, there will still be spectator ropes set up along the course and social distancing guidelines will be in place for all who are on the property.
What we don't know
How will caddies be handled? It is almost impossible to comply with 6-foot social distancing guidelines between a player and a caddie, especially when it comes to choosing a club or taking it back from the player. But as Perez said, "If me and my caddie [Mike Hartford] test negative, why is there an issue?"
What about flagsticks and bunker rakes? Will they be used at all? Attended to by a volunteer?
Will the clubhouse be open? That is unlikely, although a small area to grab food might be made available.
What about the locker room? Also unlikely. As Todd said, it is no big deal to change shoes in the parking lot.
What about driving range and putting green access? At Colonial, for example, these are small areas. It is possible the tour will institute some sort of rules for how early players can arrive before their tee times and how much time they are allowed to spend practicing after a round.
What happens if someone tests positive? Todd said such an instance would require the person who tested positive to stay isolated for 14 days. But what is unclear is whether such a positive test would halt the tournament. "I've tried to tell guys on the tour, 20 years down the road, every sport is going to look back to 2020," Thomas said. "How crazy was that? Basketball and football and baseball did this. College basketball didn't have an NCAA tournament. It's just going to be one of those years. The sooner everyone realizes that and accept it, the better. If we don't play Colonial, there's nothing we can do about it. All I can do is control what I can do and who I can't be around. There will be a lot of guidelines and rules. But I plan on playing a lot."