Despite the bad news in 2020, the PGA Tour finds a way to lead by example during the pandemic, and for that, we should be thankful
It could have been worse. Much worse, although retrospect often becomes a convenient resource when assessing how things might have turned out. In the year 2020, a numeral commonly associated with perfect vision, the three-month, coronavirus-induced furlough taken by professional golf doesn’t look so bad now. It was tough while it lasted, but it didn’t, and for that, especially today, we should be thankful.
On a personal level, there are many things in life more significant than a bunch of tour pros chasing a little white ball. The one thing we all share is a passion for the game, a keen interest in those who play it best, and on that level, the PGA Tour deserves enormous credit for maintaining the health and vibrancy of its product through the perils of the pandemic.
Major League Baseball struggled from start to finish. The NFL continues to deal with what has become a disconcerting number of positive COVID-19 tests – more than 200 players and front-office types on half of the league’s 32 teams, at least four of which have been severely compromised by the infections. Several head coaches failed to comply with the facial-covering protocol until they were threatened with suspensions or a loss of draft picks. Such men seem to pride themselves on living in their own little world, at least before the real one intervenes.
Golf is a different animal, breeding a species familiar with the scent of danger and the incontrovertible repercussions that can ensue. Even the world’s finest players can’t make a cut from quarantine. Shortstops and linebackers get paid, regardless of whether they even suit up for action. Guaranteed contracts are like a night on the town. Everybody’s happy when the party is rolling, but in the morning, there’s a wicked hangover, lots of regret and millions of dollars in hell to pay.
Tour pros, meanwhile, must sing for their supper, and every player had to buy into the program to keep the season alive. It was a daunting task, given the game’s large international contingent, the constant travel to and from all those various points, plus the fact that these guys weren’t hopping on some team charter for a one-night stay in Cincinnati before Sunday’s annual beat-down of the Bengals.
COVID-19 didn’t force sports teams to start operating in a bubble. Group isolation always has been a way of life, a habitat conducive to control and cohesion. Pro golfers are left alone to function in a completely individual athletic endeavor, self-accountable for every step of the journey. The rewards are magnificent. The pursuit of all that fame and fortune, however, can take its toll.
“Aren’t too many guys out here who close the bar on Wednesday night and shoot 65 the following morning,” a veteran player told me years ago. “Maybe a few, but it’s basically dinner at the hotel and a phone call home.”
Still, considering all the aforementioned travel variables – and how the pandemic has gotten only more persistent as we head deep into fall – it’s nothing short of amazing that the PGA Tour basically glided through the revamped schedule with little virus-related interference. A handful of positive tests surfaced within a few weeks after the June 11 restart. Two afflicted players were forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open; two more pulled out of the Masters earlier this month.
In an audacious touch of irony, Player of the Year Dustin Johnson was sidelined for a month before winning the Masters. Tony Finau, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia are among the other big names to contract the bug, but from a big-picture standpoint, the Tour has carried on without a significant hitch.
It certainly isn’t presiding over a calamity, although Yahoo.com amusingly referred to the three positive cases last week in Sea Island as “The PGA Tour’s latest big outbreak.” Really? The Internet is no hothouse when it comes to journalistic competence, but such mindless characterization defies logic. Camp Ponte Vedra has emerged triumphantly from the worldwide scourge, at least to this point. If future promises nothing in terms of pending normalcy, commissioner Jay Monahan and his staff have demonstrated the ability to handle any curveball thrown their way.
The two biggest casualties in 2020? Without question, the Players Championship and British Open. Losing any big tournament stinks because there are so few of them, but the three majors we did have produced rich storylines and ultra-worthy winners. All three champs won multiple tournaments after the restart. All three are among the top six in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Collin Morikawa’s finishing kick at the PGA offered a reminder that youth and pressure don’t add up to an oxymoron. Bryson DeChambeau and Johnson were dominant on the weekend en route to triumphs by unusually wide margins. DeChambodacious was by far and away the year's biggest newsmaker, consistently relevant and compelling, even if he does have a tin ear and two left feet when it comes to any matter involving public communication.
When you drive it 350 yards and win the U.S. Open by six, you probably can ask someone to pass the gravy in any tone you choose. If anyone has a lot to be thankful for this afternoon, it’s the Brawny Brainiac. Some turkeys live better than others.
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