Tour Confidential: What does a four-week (or longer) layoff mean for golf?

March 13, 2020

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. Following the cancelation of the Players Championship and three other tournaments due to the coronavirus, we’re launching an emergency Tour Confidential to break down the ramifications.

While the majority of major sports leagues decided to suspend or cancel their seasons on Wednesday evening and into Thursday, the PGA Tour played on at the Players Championship. Then came Thursday night, when the Tour released a statement saying it was canceling the Players, as well as the next three Tour events through the Valero Texas Open. The next time we’ll see pros, if it even happens, will be at the Masters at Augusta National. What does this lengthy stretch off mean for players, fans and more?

Luke Kerr-Dineen, managing editor (@lukekerrdineen): It means that golf, rightfully so, will take a backseat to the greater forces at work here. And that’s for everyone, from pro golfers to average fans. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s easy to think that something like this could never happen in golf. How could you possibly cancel the Players Championship? The fact of the matter is that golf is uniquely exposed. Players, coaches, staff and fans criss-cross the globe following this game, and when entire countries are going into lockdown — along with a number of U.S. cities limiting the size of public gatherings — there’s no justification for golf tournaments to continue and risk the public health. 

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak):  I’ll state the obvious and say hopefully it means good health and a lower risk of the golf community spreading the disease. But I’m sure we’re asking the question for other reasons. I think it means the golf schedule will look wildly different in June, July, August and September. That might feel obvious, too, but putting on my future-finding glasses, I see the PGA Championship relocating (might I suggest Whistling Straits?), the Masters rescheduling (wouldn’t September or October be fun?) and potentially the Olympics doing the same. Beyond that (which I’ll let my colleagues answer) there’s a lot of money tied up among the telecasts of those big events. Hopefully that doesn’t become the main focus of decision-making, but the last 24 hours don’t give me any optimism.

John Wood, PGA Tour caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): I’m going to play Devil’s advocate here. I think we will play The Masters, though probably without patrons. (As powerful as Augusta National is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we register and get a vaccination at the same time.) That’s a joke, by the way. But I do think we will play The Masters as scheduled. I’ve nothing to base it on, just a hunch. I’m not entirely sure what the impact is on the world of golf. The players will be anxious to play, but in all honesty a three week break isn’t unheard of, so they’ll be fine. It might even do some of them some good. For us caddies, it will be slightly different. Some will be fine and not take too big of a financial hit. To others this will be a significant hit, and I feel for those guys. I would hope some of the pros would help their guys out with a salary for a few weeks until we know what’s going to happen long term. There will certainly be some pros who will think of this and do it, and there will be others who don’t. And still playing Devil’s advocate, and I’ll probably get killed for this … but is there a chance we are overreacting to this? I’m not a doctor. In fact, I was even horrendous at “Operation” as a child … lots of buzzers, so I’m sure I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just asking the question: My slim understanding of this is that if you’re relatively healthy and not past a certain age, the symptoms present like the flu. It comes, you get a fever, a dry cough, perhaps a headache and other aches and pains, and it runs its course. The CDC has estimated that between 12,000- 30,000 deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to influenza from October 1, 2019-February 1, 2020. Globally, the WHO estimates the flu kills between 290,000-650,000 people every year. Playing tournaments without fans for a few weeks seemed feasible. Most of those playing and caddying are relatively pretty healthy, and if you didn’t feel safe playing, no one would be forcing you. I also understand the other side of things … if you contracted the virus you could spread it to others. So that’s me contradicting myself about four times. So what does all this mean? Well, I wish we could have finished out this week, as the tournament has already started, and minimizing the risk by not allowing fans in seemed a good compromise. But it’s completely understandable to send everyone home to give those involved to let things settle and then re-evaluate in a few weeks. It is one of the craziest days in the 24 years I’ve been caddying.

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): The impact on the players? If the respite is actually only four weeks, this isn’t a *huge* deal. In fact, some pros might welcome the break. On the fans? They’ll survive. On  the events themselves, the sponsors, the charities and communities that depend on these tournaments? It’s a mess. More than most sports, golf has an elaborate network of partners with revenue coming in from countless sources. Pulling the plug on five events in a four-week stretch will be a wicked web to untangle. Tour execs will earn their fat salaries in the coming weeks. You also get the sense, as Zak points out, that the way this thing is going we’re going to be looking at more cancellations beyond the Texas Open. The Masters, a week later, seems unlikely to happen. Harbour Town, Zurich, Wells Fargo — all those events are undoubtedly on alert. The PGA Championship in San Francisco in mid-May? It would be wise for that tourney to make contingency plans, as it undoubtedly already has. Wild, sad, incalculable day.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): The impact on the Tour has been pretty well covered by my colleagues above. I’m left to wonder whether it will have any trickle-down effect on the rhythms of public golf on the courses most of us play. I drove out to one of the Bay Area’s busiest munis yesterday to check on the state of things and found the place to still be, well, as packed as ever. Not a single slot open on the tee sheet, backups on tee boxes everywhere I turned. .A number of people I spoke with said they felt the threat was being overblown by the media, and, besides, that a golf course was just about as safe and healthy a place as they could be. I’ll leave it to the public health experts to adjudicate that. What was striking was the extent to which the golf course felt to many like a refuge. Most things in this game seem to spill from the top down. What starts on the Tour makes its way down to the rest of us. I wonder what I’ll see in a few days when I revisit the course, how packed it will be, whether golfers will be thinking differently in the wake of what the Tour has decided. And don’t even get me started on the questions surrounding the golf resort and travel business in general. It’s hard to have a good handle on where things stand now, or where they’re going. But you’ve got to figure a rough road lies ahead. 

Jonathan Wall, equipment editor (@jonathanrwall): It means we’re focusing on what matters most — trying to contain a global pandemic. As private contractors, this isn’t an ideal situation for players, but I think we get hung up on the big tour and forget about guys on the Korn Ferry and Latino America who really rely on the weekly paychecks to make a living. I feel for those players and what this lay-off is going to do — not to mention the caddies who are also trying to get by. For the fans, it means getting used to no golf on television and preparing for the possibility of a reworked schedule late in the year, something I think everyone would embrace if the layoff extends beyond Valero, which I think it will at this point. Augusta in the fall? Sign me up.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): My brain is fried. Things have been happening too quickly. I can’t process the extent of the virus, and I can’t process the way we’re tossing aside these major institutions (golf events, sure, and the NBA, and March Madness — but also like, SCHOOL! Some kids are suddenly just done with going to college!) and I think those responses are all good and correct, but my worldview feels like it has been flipped on its head. That doesn’t answer the question at all, except to say that I think John Wood covered the confusion and contradictory thoughts we’ve all been having quite well. But all the nuances of PGA Tour status — world rank, major medical exemptions, starts, reshuffles, opposite-field appearances, etc. — get tossed out the window. The guys in limbo at the edge of the Tour will be the most affected. Nothing makes sense. I need some sleep.

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