Why the PGA Tour made the right call canceling the Players, according to a scientist

March 13, 2020

Prior to the PGA Tour canceling the Players Championship (and beyond), there was speculation that because golf is contested in an outdoor theater, there is less of a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

“This is a little different situation than other sports where we’re outdoors and we don’t have the physical contact and we can take it as cautious as we can,” Justin Thomas said after his round Thursday.

Playing partner Jordan Spieth concurred.

“It’s different than other sports, right?” Spieth said. “There’s no contact, like even in basketball you’re right next to each other obviously, and so I think it’s a little bit different. You have a much wider space that you’re playing in.”

But is that true? Does being an outdoor sport make it less likely that the coronavirus can spread? According to one scientist, that is not necessarily the case.

Dr. Frank Fornari, who is the co-founder of BioMech and is a leading expert in pharmacology, drug testing, genetics and disease, explained the risks associated with hosting a golf tournament amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

One concern with hosting a tournament is the large congregation of people. This can allow for spreading of the airborne disease. While fans are not consistently in close proximity at golf tournaments like other sports, there is still an overwhelming amount of close contact.

“If we did not stop the massing of people,” Fornari said. “The virus would spread much much faster … If you prevent people from getting together in large groups, you’re going to slow down the process of that spread.”

So why not just proceed with the no-fans plan that was initially implemented? Fewer people would surely result in less of a chance of infection. However, the virus can live on surfaces. Think flagsticks, rakes, scorecards. There would still be a high risk of spreading the disease.

Fornari also stressed that with this virus, there are lots of unknowns and variables. It’s too early to tell if the outdoor element of golf would make the virus less likely to spread.

“We don’t really know a lot about this virus and how it spreads and what conditions it’s optimized in,” Fornari said.

So, did the PGA Tour make the right call in canceling their flagship event and the following month of competitions?

“No question,” Fornari said. “It is the best thing to do … It also sends the message that they are concerned about the health and well-being of not only everybody that plays the game, but also everybody who watches the game as well.

“I applaud the PGA Tour for falling in line to take precautions to prevent large groups of people from coming together … Nobody wants to not be able to go out and see their professional golf events, but holding people together in mass at these tournaments is just a very good way for this virus to spread from one fan of golf to another.”

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