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Tag: golf

PGA Tour Hoping COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t get worse, by George Willis, TheNewYorkExtra/theNYExtra.com

Welcome to the new normal on the PGA Tour.  Hopefully.

Five players withdrew from the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., on Wednesday amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19.   Cameron Champ was the only player to test positive, but caddies Ricky Elliott and Ken Convoy also tested positive.  Elliott carries the bag for Brooks Koepka, who withdrew, while Convoy is the caddie for Graeme McDowell, who also withdrew, as per the health and safety protocols established by the tour.

Chase Koepka, the brother of Brooks Koepka, had qualified for the tournament at TPC River Highlands, but also withdrew out of an abundance of caution.  Webb Simpson, the winner of last week’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, also withdrew out of an abundance of caution.

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The five withdrawals and three positive tests come after golfer Nick Watney tested positive for COVID-19 before the second round at Hilton Head last week.  While five withdrawals in a single day seems like a big number, it’s manageable for the PGA Tour.

“We knew it would be impossible to eliminate all risk as evidenced by the three positive tests this week,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a virtual interview from Cromwell, adding, “We all need to learn to live with this virus, both as individuals, as family members and certainly within our business.”

There was no thought of canceling the tournament, which is the right move.  The 2020 Travelers Championship is part of the four tourney restart of the PGA Tour where fans aren’t allowed and putting on a professional golf tournament in the midst of a pandemic is unprecedented.  There were bound to be positive tests and the PGA Tour can only hope the situation doesn’t get much worse.

Monahan said the Tour has administered 2,757 in market tournament tests, including the Korn Ferry Tour, with seven positive tests.  Any positive test is a concern, but it’s also part of the learning process of how to contest professional sports in this uncertain climate.

“I’m concerned,” Monahan said, “but I’m also confident in the program and protocols we’ve put in place and our ability to be able to sustain the PGA Tour and give our players opportunities on both of these tours over the course of the year, so long as we continue to be as diligent as we intend to be.”

A Travelers purse of $7.4 million will be at stake when the first round begins Thursday.  Players are tested every other day, which means there could be more positive tests coming during the week.  The hope is that it doesn’t get to the point where the PGA Tour considers shutting down the season again.

“The thing that’s most important is just everybody needs to do their part,” said Justin Thomas, a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour.  “It’s a big-picture thing, and you need to do not only what’s best for you but most importantly what’s best for the Tour because one mistake that someone makes could end up ruining other guys or potentially suspend the Tour again.”

Monahan hopes it won’t get to that point.  “We’re confident with the plan we have and we are very hopeful that we are not going to be in that position,” he said.

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Travelers doing ‘everything’ to avoid COVID-19 spread on PGA Tour

barclays golf/tuesdays pratice round pro am tournament of barclays classic at westchester country club/ phil mickelson hot from the 8th hole today Neil Miller/The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com copyright 2020

All eyes will be on the 2020 Travelers Championship this week in Cromwell, Conn., and it won’t just be about the golf.  After Nick Watney became the first player to test positive for COVID-19 at the RBC Heritage last week at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, the PGA Tour is holding its collective breath waiting to see if it’s an isolated case or the start of something more serious.

The world best golfers began arriving at TPC River Highlands on Monday for the annual event that is the first on the PGA Tour to be played on schedule since the pandemic began.  No fans will be in attendance and the list of volunteers, which normally numbers 4,000 has been whittled to about 300.  Everyone on the grounds will be tested during the week by either the PGA Tour or a separate testing program being implemented by tournament organizers.

“All players, caddies and tour officials will be tested in the Tour program,” tournament director Nathan Grube told TheNYExtra.com “But given the environment and what’s happening in New England we talked to Travelers and made an agreement that we are going to test everybody on property.  We have a different program going the same time the Tour has their program going.  We’ve been working with all of the volunteers, vendors, television teams, police security, firemen, and manufacture reps, anybody on property.”

Testing everyone at the event has been a “logistical challenge,” trying to coordinate schedules and procedures.  “We just want to make sure that after the tournament is over when we look back, we can say, we did everything we possibly could to be as safe as possible,” Grube said.

The Travelers Championship with a purse of $7,400,000 is regarded as one of the most fan-friendly tournaments on the PGA Tour and a popular stop for touring players, normally coming off a rugged U.S. Open.   While COVID-19 caused the cancellation or postponement of several tournaments including this year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y, the Travelers was tabbed as one of the first four events once the Tour returned to action.

The Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial came off without incident two weeks ago, but Watney, 39, tested positive before Friday’s second round at Hilton Head after being negative from an initial test taken on Tuesday.

Despite being symptomatic on Friday, Watney, a five-time PGA Tour, was allowed to remain at the golf course and continue his preparation while awaiting test results.  The 11 people he came into contact with during the week were all tested Friday and were negative.  Watney is now in self-isolation in South Carolina for at least 10 days.  

A positive test was scary, but not unexpected, and Grube said information gathered at Colonial and Harbour Town will be invaluable this week.

“All the tournament directors are having weekly calls and sometimes daily calls,” Grube said.  “People were sending us pictures every day.  ‘This is what we did at player registration. This is what we did at caddie registration.  This is how we sent out water to the groups.’  It was such a good flow of information.”

Being part of the restart has helped the Travelers attract a strong field. The top five players in the world ranking are competing:  Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.   Bubba Watson will be looking for his fourth win in Cromwell, while two-time champion Phil Mickelson and 2017 champion Jordan Spieth are also in the field along with 15 of the top 20 players in the world rankings.

“We’re happy we’re part of bringing sport back and part of bringing golf back,” Grube said.  “Our fans are part of what makes this place so special and so unique.  They’ll definitely be missed.  But I think they understand.”

With an estimated 200,000 in attendance over the course of the week, the 2019 tournament raised an estimated $2.1 million for the various charities the tournament supports.  With no Pro-Am and no corporate tents to generate added income payouts to charitable funds figured to be scarce this year.  But the majority of the sponsors have agreed to make their fees donations instead of rolling it over into next year.  “We’re going to be able to give a significant number to charities,” Grube said.  “It’s been a very, very different year with how much is going on.”

This day in sports, June 22nd , Neil Miller The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

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