With so much star power in this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, the PGA Tour’s restart after a 3-month shutdown from coronavirus will have a big-time feel to it, even without fans ... and Tiger Woods
It will have about as many spectators as a Friday morning members’ shootout at Colonial Country Club, which is to say none, but the wattage of the star power this week at the Charles Schwab Challenge is downright blinding.
This is the most significant tournament of the year for a number of reasons. The PGA Tour is returning after being in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic since March 12, the first wholesale canceling of events since World War II.
But that’s not the only historic element of the Schwab Challenge. For the first time in anyone’s memory, fans will not be allowed on the grounds to watch the tournament. Players will compete in what is bound to be eerie silence, much like the absence of noise on Manhattan streets in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.
Still, nearly all of the elite players are turning out to Colonial in unprecedented numbers for a Tour stop that dates to 1946. In recent years, this event in Fort Worth, Texas, has suffered from the absence of marquee names, despite the high regard in which Colonial is held.
However, this week’s field includes all of the top five players on the Official World Golf Ranking – that's Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson – and 15 of the top 20. Everyone believed players would be antsy and eager to play after such a lengthy hiatus, but no one saw this coming.
So, because there’s no British Open this year, why not make this the unofficial fourth major? It’s true that Tiger Woods isn’t entered, nor is Tommy Fleetwood nor Adam Scott. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the pandemic that some of the foreigners won’t play because of travel restrictions and quarantine concerns. Woods’ absence is another story altogether.
But the great Bobby Jones always said, “You can only beat those who show up to be beaten,” and the rest of the field at Colonial is major caliber. Whoever wins is bound to look at this victory as just below a major and surely a considerable notch above a garden-variety Tour event.
Especially given the deeper meaning. This is a moment worth remembering and major in its scope. Golf is leading the ball-and-stick sports back in the U.S., and it’s a symbol of American resiliency given the events of the past 90 days. We’ve always looked at sports with passion, and no other game generates more genuine feeling than golf, particularly among those who play it.
Because of the fluid and mercurial nature of our game, we’re constantly reminded that the status quo is never more than temporary. Events dictate that all of us will need to change the way we do things for a while, perhaps indefinitely. Some things we will have to revolutionize in our thinking and actions.
Golf rewards excellence, but that’s not the game’s only measuring stick. The game and its players know how to adjust, persevere and come out on the other side changed for the better. That’s the way we will treat the weighty matters with which we have been presented.
While the Schwab Challenge will be minus sneakers on the ground, it doesn’t mean the event will be without fans. Millions will be watching on TV, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
Jim Nantz will be housed in a small cube just off the 10th hole – just him, a remote camera and a monitor. Nick Faldo will be in a studio someplace else, and CBS’ footprint at Colonial will be a fraction of the space and people power it normally takes.
For a time, we will need to be patient and tolerant of a stripped-down telecast without some things in televised golf that we take for granted, and we won’t know what that will be until it turns up missing. While at the same time, PGA Tour and network officials will tiptoe through these first few events to determine how televised golf can be best shipped to the public and still do it safely.
The atmosphere around major championships is electric – there’s just no other word that describes it better. While there won’t be a physical buzz at Colonial, with no spectators and a skinny TV presence, the air still will be brimming with anticipation.
We won’t see it or hear it this week with the sounds of the masses, but rest assured that in the hearts and minds of the players, the desire will be keener, the heartbeat a bit more rapid and the focus just that much sharper.
It’s bound to be a strange sensation for those coming down the stretch on Sunday with the outcome in their grasp. No cheers or groans, no one lined along the ropes between holes looking to slap five, no errant shots saved by bouncing off spectators or hospitality tents.
Just players and their caddies, along with TV’s camera and sound personnel and scorers. Don’t think for a moment that it will be just like a casual round of golf. Pressure will hang over each contender until the winning putt is holed.
If you think it won’t look or sound like a big deal, you couldn’t be any more wrong. This is the biggest thing to happen in golf for what seems to us – and them – like an eternity.
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