News & Opinion

Donald Trump’s push for sports will put golf to the test

In a conference call with leaders of the major professional sports leagues, the U.S. president seeks a return to normalcy as soon as possible, which won’t be so easy for the golf tours

It’s hard to believe that we are talking at any level about when sports will reopen as more than 9,600 Americans have died from coronavirus, and 336,000-plus infections in the U.S. have been reported as of late Sunday.

Yet, we are, and the discussion started over the weekend with President Donald Trump, who gathered the heads of the major professional sports leagues in the U.S. – even Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment – and discussed on a conference call the desire to get “fans back in the arenas.”

Donald Trump wants sports to return to the U.S. ‘as soon as we can.’

According to a report by the Associated Press, Trump thinks the NFL season will start on schedule, which would begin Sept. 10, though the schedule has not been released by the league.

“I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready,” Trump said in his daily coronavirus briefing. “As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”

Virtually all American sports fans would like to see live games again, but with the number of deaths still on the rise and with the U.S. health-care system struggling to keep up with the soaring number of patients, the proclamation from the White House seems overly optimistic and perhaps even irresponsible to contemplate.

When asked about the potential for an NFL start on Sept. 10 in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.”

The Golden State is home to three of the league’s 32 teams: Los Angeles Chargers, L.A. Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

Newsom, who recognized the seriousness of the growing pandemic much earlier than the White House or most other governors, has seen California control the spread of the virus much better than other highly populated states. California, with nearly 14,000 cases, of which 323 have died as of Sunday, has an infection rate of 35.5 per 100,000 people, far lower than the rates of infection in other states, the New York Times reported. More significantly, the rate of new infections has started to decrease.

Newsom issued a stay-at-home order on March 19 for the state’s 40 million residents, but some municipalities enacted local restrictions even sooner.

When you look at the numbers in New York (122,000-plus infections, of which 4,159 died) and Louisiana (13,000-plus and 477), it seems clear to me that talking with Newsom would be a good place to start when deciding when we should go back to work or allow for sports to start again.

Commissioners Jay Monahan of the PGA Tour and Mike Whan of the LPGA Tour said earlier in the crisis that they would gather information not only from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but from state and local officials, including their own executives, before they would act to resume competition.

Both commissioners were on the call with Trump. The PGA Tour referred all inquiries for comment to the White House.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the decision to start again will be much more difficult for golf (“If PGA Tour errs on side of caution, then so be it,” March 16). Now, seeing a situation in which the White House is saying one thing and the state and local health officials are saying another will make that decision even more difficult.

Even when local and state officials are willing to relax their stay-in-place orders and social distancing, the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour must face the fact that their members come from almost every state and more than 30 countries, so how do they police that return effectively?

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that borders, age and gender mean nothing to this killer. At the same time, we have learned that mitigation works. Look at California.

During the next few months, Monahan and Whan will be in the spotlight, with all of their players eager to return to competition, as well as the tours’ sponsors, TV networks and fans ready to see live golf again.

It will be the most difficult decision of their tenures, and they will have to lead.

Let’s see whether they will be up to the task.

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