News & Opinion

Olympics' delay could be pure gold for golf

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Tokyo Games’ postponement until 2021 might help PGA Tour and other pro circuits find space for their major events this year, provided that the states play ball amid the coronavirus recovery

Lead time.

For athletes, it’s the time required to prepare for peak performance. It was the main reason why the International Olympic Committee and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, faced with the coronavirus pandemic, decided Tuesday to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games to an undetermined date next year.

Many of the aspiring Olympians have had their training regimens altered or suspended. They often devote years to prepare for the quadrennial Olympics and naturally wanted to be peaking for the Summer Games.

With two weeks of the Olympics now off the 2020 schedule with the IOC announcement, the PGA, European and LPGA tours will have a little bit of flexibility in an otherwise anticipated jammed schedule when tournament golf can return after the worldwide health crisis ebbs. Of course, that presumes that golf is back in action by late July, when the Olympics were scheduled to have begun.

During a news conference held by the U.S. coronavirus task force Monday, President Donald Trump expressed an eagerness to reopen the American economy. On Tuesday, he targeted Easter for a return to normal. Health officials contend that, with coronavirus infections and deaths still rising in the U.S., such a move toward normalcy would be too soon.

If the president opens the doors to try to resurrect the economy, what would the individual states do?

Consider New York and its growing number of infected and dying residents. The number of infections in the Empire State has been doubling every three days. As of late Tuesday, the U.S. registered more than 53,000 cases, with 698 deaths. New York claimed large chunks of those numbers: 25,600-plus infections and at least 210 deaths. Gov. Mario Cuomo, a daily presence on the national news, likely would exercise extreme caution before allowing large groups to congregate, such as what is typical at a professional golf tournament. That could make the June 18-21 date for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, just north of New York City, seem to be a nonstarter.

In California, where the PGA Championship in May recently was postponed at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Gov. Gavin Newsom faces similar concerns. It would defy logic that California would do anything hastily, which means the PGA likely would have to wait for another open date.

This doesn’t mean the U.S. Golf Association or the PGA of America, the governing bodies that administer the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, respectively, could not move their majors to potentially safer venues. The event contracts might limit the organizations’ flexibility.

But no tournament golf is likely to be staged until the country returns to some semblance of normalcy.

Last week, I wrote about how golf’s decision makers will face a delicate balance as to when to return from this hiatus, which began March 12 when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan pulled the plug after the first round of the Players Championship.

Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA Tour, LPGA, PGA of America and the USGA have all stated that they would heed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the local, state and federal governments and the golf organizations’ leaders.

What happens if the groups disagree? What if Trump says it’s time for Americans to get back to work and live our lives, but the mayor of San Francisco decrees that the order to stay in place remains in effect?

Each political entity unfortunately has a different agenda. The golf organizations might have to make difficult choices as their players grow weary of sitting at home and yearn to return to competition and their livelihoods.

Even when everyone agrees that golf can restart, how much lead time would the players need before competition should begin?

Though the Olympics has been postponed until 2021, is it possible that the two weeks in late July and early August would go unused?

So many issues exist now, and other concerns will crop up in the coming weeks and months. Thankfully, golf has mature and intelligent leadership that will make the difference.

Of course, everyone wants to get back on the golf course, but the safety of the players, workers, volunteers and fans is the defining factor in restoring competition.

Oddly, as we see different political entities moving in different directions in the U.S., the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe seem to be taking their approach to the pandemic differently.

Is it possible that if those countries stick with the stay-in-place orders long enough to minimize the spread of the virus, could the British Open be played July 16-19 at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England, as scheduled? Europe could be the center of the golf world this summer if the virus in the U.S. continues to spread.

So many questions with very few answers remain. As the information filters out, we will learn more, and decisions will be a little easier to make.

Still, as we look to wrap up a horrendous March and flip the calendar to April, the new normal is more about the unknown than any certainty. And, it could be that way for a while longer.

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