Of all the sports that would dare come out first with a plan to challenge the coronavirus, who would have guessed golf had the temperament for such hard duty?
This most genteel game, the one voted least likely to require a concussion protocol stepped out Thursday and attached a June 11 date to the resumption of the PGA Tour. It's golf that set up a beachhead on the blank competitive calendar, even if it remains wise to circle the date in erasable ink. It's golf that confronted the helplessness and inertia this pandemic has spawned to provide some small act of conviction.
“We're optimistic, but I'm not going to say that I have 110% certainty,” Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief tournament and competitions officer, said on announcing the revised schedule. “But we are very confident that we will be able to play that second week in June.”
We’ll cling to any expression of optimism and confidence now, so thanks for that.
Welcome to the most highly anticipated Charles Schwab Challenge in the history of generic corporate tournaments (it’s at Colonial in Ft. Worth, Texas, by the way). If it does go off, Tiger Woods better be there or have a note from no fewer than five renowned doctors and two world leaders excusing him.
The plan is for the PGA Tour to fill the current void with wall-to-wall golf from mid-June through the rest of the year and play at least its first four events without the need for gallery ropes because there would be no gallery.
Contained within that schedule is a Tour Championship at East Lake Sept. 4-7, with a Ryder Cup (Sept. 25-27) and two of the majors – the U.S. Open (Sept. 17-20) and the Masters (Nov. 12-15) – played afterward. At least that's how it would work in a perfect world, and I think we all can agree now that is not a workable ideal.
Looking ahead to East Lake – at last, an excuse to look ahead – Pazder pointed out that under the current plan, they'd play a 36-tournament season (down from the original 49 events), including a pair of FedEx Cup playoff events in advance of the Tour Championship finale. "We feel – and our player directors on our policy board also feel – that if we are able to conclude a schedule that has 36 events, that would constitute a credible FedEx Cup season," he said.
Golf has some built-in advantages that just might make a June start-up and a credible season possible.
It’s played in the great wide open where physical distancing is doable (certainly my game always put me in isolation in the woods, the creek beds and somebody’s backyard). Amateurs have been playing the game in many places throughout this last month.
These pros require no camp or extended spring training to get ready for a season, not even the least fit among them. Being independent contractors, those who might feel uncomfortable coming anywhere near a tournament are free to stay home.
Unlike so many other games, this one is committed to non-contact. It’s a fundamental reason to play the game in the first place (Case in point: Carts are used to haul away the injured in football but only to ferry golfers to the next hole or to bring them beer).
These Tour players can even forgo the handshakes at the end of the round and nobody’s feelings will be hurt. No need to even pretend they all like each other.
Golf has all the makings of a useful bridge back to some form of competitive normalcy. Of course, great questions loom, too. Will there be adequate testing available at tournaments? What about the risks of travel to events (the complications mount for international players)? What degree of player-caddie interaction is considered healthy anymore? Will state or local governments back any kind of golf gathering?
Getting golf going again is hardly a pressing priority. But don't underestimate the symbolic importance of what golf did Thursday. It stepped up with a real schedule filled with real possibilities, sowing a seed of hope.
“We are aware, obviously, that for a sports fan in general there is a thirst for live sports in our country, and I assume to some degree around the world,” the PGA Tour’s Pazder said. “We're not rushing back to satiate that desire. We are simply announcing a resumption of our schedule. We're only going to do that when we are sure that it will be safe and responsible to do that, and if a byproduct of that is that golf fans and sports fans in general are excited about tuning in to the Charles Schwab Challenge on June 11th, that's great.”
So, you’re saying there’s a chance?
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