News & Opinion

Talk is cheap for PGA Tour’s Jay Monahan amid pandemic

Ty Votaw and Jay Monahan
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan (right), with tour executive Ty Votaw, puts on a good face for the public.

Commissioner fails to take stand regarding players and spectators, who are granted too much leeway with COVID-19 protocols 

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Though COVID-19 seemed to be winning throughout 2020, the pandemic finally is starting to abate as sports and the rest of society counts the days until we can return to some sense of normalcy.

The predicted post-pandemic economic boom could be the biggest seen since after World War II. But unlike the last global conflict, this fight does not have a designated beginning and end, and it’s not confined to national borders.

The virus mutates and has been aided by certain political realities, mainly that some believe a pandemic does not exist and that a vaccine, much less social distancing, mask wearing and frequent hand washing, are unnecessary.

Even some who acknowledge the pandemic, which has killed about 540,000 Americans among nearly 30 million infections in the U.S., are unwilling to take the vaccine.

For most sports leaders, navigating these inconsistent issues leaves many wondering how to move forward responsibly. After all, leagues need spectators, who provide the revenue that pays the bills.

The need for fans on the PGA Tour differs from other sports, because golf’s business model is built on corporate sponsorship and television rights fees. The desire to welcome spectators appeases sponsors and generates the charitable money that is the other significant part of the sport’s business model.

This week at the Players Championship here at TPC Sawgrass will be the fifth consecutive week in which spectators will be permitted onsite, though at only 20 percent of normal capacity.

It’s fair to say that readmitting fans is an experiment as the PGA Tour tiptoes through a maze of common sense and local regulatory controls.

“We see light at the end of the tunnel,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday during his annual media conference at the tour's flagship event. “There are a lot with vaccination and the progress that we're making and the hope that's in front of us. You take that, but you still have to remind yourself that you've got to focus on your plan and your protocols and make sure we're doing everything we can to keep health and safety as our No. 1 priority.”

During the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week at Bay Hill in Orlando, many fans plainly were not wearing masks. There hasn’t been a week when mask wearing seemed to be more optional than mandated. PGA Tour protocols have been woefully inadequate, but is asking every fan, even at only 20 percent capacity, an impossible task? Is the PGA Tour setting itself up for failure?

“I've been encouraged by the number of people that have been wearing masks,” Monahan said. “And while I have seen some that aren't, and we want everyone to be wearing masks and we're going to continue to reinforce that, I like the actual progression that we've been on, and I think you'll see more growth on that front this week.”

Is Monahan correct? Are the fans abiding by the mask mandate, or will they continue to ignore it, especially in a state where the governor has lifted the mask mandate?

Vaccines, one of the most important defenses against the pandemic, according to health experts, are encouraged by some and shunned by others. Monahan said he will not force his players to be vaccinated, but he will encourage them to follow the science.

“We’ve got 94 players from 29 countries and territories,” Monahan said. “They live all throughout the world, so I think the most important thing right now is education, and then we're going to do everything we can to support vaccination for our players when it's appropriate to do so.”

Monahan indicates that he wants his players to be protected from the virus, but like the mask mandate, he is not willing to draw a firm line and do the difficult work by forcing compliance in either area.

Hope will not get it done. Monahan seems more interested in sounding supportive than outlining any specific actions that his tour will do to change the direction of the pandemic.

Isn’t it time to put up or shut up?

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