News & Opinion

PGA Tour vows business as usual, but for how long?

Coronavirus dominates commissioner Jay Monahan’s annual ‘State of the Tour’ address, with the crosshairs set on this month’s WGC Match Play in Austin and perhaps even the PGA Championship in San Francisco in May

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Coronavirus was a central theme of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s annual “State of the Tour” news conference Tuesday at the Players Championship.

Monahan was peppered with questions about the impact of the coronavirus on the PGA Tour and other tournaments. The upshot is that golf will be played, but under what conditions?

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PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan

What is close to a global pandemic has tentacles in every nation, prompting financial markets to tumble and leading to cancellation of events such as the South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas.

Numerous sporting events have been postponed, canceled or played in empty facilities worldwide. Italy has closed its borders, and all sporting events are on hold.

In this environment, Monahan was asked about the PGA Tour’s plans amid concerns about the virus.

Monahan offered few specifics about the blueprint. He said the Tour’s recently formed task force, which since has been upgraded to a business unit, is led by Dr. Tom Hospel, the Tour’s medical director, and Allison Keller, the chief administrative officer.

The Tour will take direction regarding its tournaments from local, state and federal authorities, including officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most immediate event targeted for a potential disruption is the WGC Dell Match Play Championship, which is scheduled for March 25-29 in Austin.

“We feel like we have support to continue to move forward with the event, full support,” Monahan said of officials in Texas’ capital. “This thing is so dynamic that you just have to go hour-to-hour, day-to-day. Right now, we have every assurance that we'll be in Austin for the event.”

Monahan said the SXSW event was scrapped because of a number of factors. Media reports cited an increasing number of withdrawals by high-profile performers and company associated with the two-week festival.

“We started to get a number of phone calls from members of the media, from players, from our partners,” Monahan said. “And you step back and you actually look at the data, look at what's happening on the ground there. If your local public-health officials feel confident that everybody can enter into a safe environment and that we're protecting the well-being of all folks onsite that we're going to move forward.”

The status of the PGA Championship, which is scheduled for May 14-17 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, also was discussed. There has been speculation among golf insiders that the PGA could move to TPC Sawgrass, which already would have infrastructure in place from this week’s event.

County health officials in Santa Clara County, less than 50 miles south of San Francisco, have curtailed public events with 1,000 or more people through the end of March, forcing the NHL’s San Jose Sharks to look for alternative venues outside of their home arena.

“Reports that the 2020 PGA Championship will be relocated from TPC Harding Park are inaccurate,” the PGA of America said in a statement. “At this time, no such discussions have taken place. We continue to carefully monitor this rapidly evolving situation, in close coordination and communication with representatives from San Francisco. We will follow the guidance of state and city officials and public health authorities, keeping the safety and well-being of all involved as our highest priority.”

For his part, Monahan understands that the Tour is facing an extraordinary situation.

“There is no plan at this point in time for the PGA Championship to be held here,” Monahan said. “It's going to be held at TPC Harding Park. But I would just pledge to you, as we've pledged to everybody else, that in all of our tournaments week to week that we've really got to listen and respond to the real information that we're receiving on the ground.”

The only Tour-affiliated events to be affected this year have been on the developmental China Series, with its season start delayed.

More than 118,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide, and more than 4,200 have died. In the U.S., nearly 900 infections have been reported, with 28 deaths. The respiratory virus, with symptoms that mirror those of the flu, has no known cure.

Once testing ramps up in the U.S., the scope of the disease will come into better focus. For now, at least, it’s business as usual on the PGA Tour.

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