News & Opinion

2020 Colonial: PGA Tour players struggle with 6-footers

Charles Schwab Challenge entrance
The PGA Tour returns Thursday with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

Many players and caddies in season restart at Colonial ignore the social-distancing advice of staying 6 feet apart and dismiss other health tips designed to limit coronavirus exposure, reports say. Will any of that matter? We'll soon find out.

Is it possible that players and caddies on the PGA Tour didn’t get the memo?

Some apparently got the word and are choosing to ignore it or simply don’t believe that an issue exists with social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s frightening to think that these guys who can bomb it 300-plus yards off the tee and make a 7-iron shot dance around the pin all of a sudden could become doctors as well as professional golfers. According to the reporting from the Charles Schwab Challenge this week at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, that is exactly what is happening.

It seems as if social distancing and the other mitigating actions adopted by the PGA Tour from recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are being ignored by some players and caddies this week as the Tour returns from a three-month suspension (tee times).

Golf Digest’s Brian Wacker and ESPN’s Michael Collins reported that some players and caddies will challenge or perhaps even ignore the suggested policies from federal, state and local health officials and implemented by the PGA Tour.

Does this seem alarmist? Possibly. But, if the U.S. had displayed more urgency earlier this year as the number of coronavirus infections increased, we might be in a much different position today.

At the same time, Texas, the first state to reopen its economy – at $1.8 trillion, it’s behind only California’s in size and ranks 10th in the world – reported COVID-19 numbers on the rise. On Monday, hospitals admitted 1,935 patients for coronavirus-related treatment, the highest number since 1,888 were admitted May 5.

Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth and Colonial, and Dallas County to the east rank Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in the state in the number of coronavirus infections, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Texas has reported more than 75,000 infections and 1,800-plus deaths, so players’ ignoring the guidance from health officials and Tour officials seems to be reckless behavior.

“They're telling us to do social distancing, practice social distancing, take every precaution possible. And some of the players are,” Kevin Na, Colonial’s defending champion, said Wednesday. “But you've got to remember that all of us tested negative. We just took two tests to get here – one at home and once we got here – so I think guys get a little comfortable. And at the same time, you see your friends and your caddies and other Tour staff members, and we're friends with them, and you just kind of start talking to them. You get closer and closer, and you kind of forget because you're so happy and excited to see them that you forget about social distancing.”

Na’s sentiment appears to be prevalent among the players and caddies. According to Michael Bamberger’s report on Golf.com, the Tour’s concept of insulating tournament participants in a “bubble” already might have burst as players quickly resort to their respective routines.

Being tested simply means that at that moment in time one is not symptomatic. At any point afterward, the recently tested patient could become infected and thus unknowingly run the risk of spreading the disease to others.

Bamberger also wrote: “A trick-of-the-trade, one caddie was saying on Tuesday, is to put your forehead in front of your car’s air conditioner, before submitting to the mandatory forehead temperature check at the entrance.”

So, social distancing appears to be an afterthought, with tricks for the testers and a wave of the hand at medical guidance, including where to eat and how to commute to the tournament. It seems like a recipe for disaster that we won’t fully understand until 14 days from now, when the Tour has gone from Fort Worth to Hilton Head Island, S.C., to Cromwell, Conn.

“I think it's important to go through it all,” Brooks Koepka said when asked about the importance of following the protocols. “The thing is, if we come back and all of a sudden if you guys get it, we're looking at not playing again. So, I think it's important to make sure that we go through all these things, because I want to play. I know everybody out here wants to play. I know the fans want to see us play, so we've got to take all those protocols seriously if we really want to be out here for the rest of the year.”

It would not be fair to label the entire group of PGA Tour players as bad actors. Justin Thomas took the precautions to heart and has remained indoors each night, hiring a chef for meals.

“We're having pretty much every meal in the house,” said Thomas, who is sharing a house with Rickie Fowler and his wife, Allison Stokke, and Jason Dufner. “We just felt like the more things that we control and the less variables in terms of either food I was eating or stuff I was touching, if we just kind of keep our circle small and stay in that circle, we felt like that was going to be the best option.”

If the virus starts to spread throughout the Tour and its players, what will happen?

“I asked that same question to the PGA Tour,” Na said. “And I think the answer I got was, we hope it doesn't happen, and we don't think it's going to happen because with all the testing that we're doing and the precautions we're taking. But if it does, if it starts spreading, then they will reassess, and they'll most likely start having to have to cancel tournaments.”

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