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.
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.