In this week’s edition we examine independent thinking on the PGA Tour, the circuit’s willingness to pivot and the myth of rest.
Putting the ‘I’ in independent. Unlike other professional sports, the Tour’s return to competition plan wasn’t based on drawn-out negotiations or subtle cajoling. There was no need because in golf every independent contractor can decide when or if they play.
Tiger Woods admitted last week that he delayed his return to competition because he wanted to see how the Tour’s restart went, and this week Adam Scott revealed that he opted out of the upcoming WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and will return at the PGA Championship.
Eddie Pepperell said this week that he plans to skip the PGA Championship - and the two-week quarantine that’s required for international players to travel to the United States.
While players in other sports have become high-profile talking points because of their decision to sit out the return, in golf, having the choice has always been the best part of being an independent contractor.
Tweet of the week:
Pepperell’s wit will be missed on Tour, but that only makes his Twitter account that much more valuable.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
“Guests” welcome. Although the Tour quietly revealed last week that it would complete this season without fans or pro-ams, the circuit did offer a glimpse into some normalcy with the return of tournament or sponsor “guests” at select events this season.
In a memo sent to players Wednesday, the program outlined what’s being called “hosted experiences” that will include as many as 50 guests a day. The guests will be allowed on-site only on competition days and will not be allowed to walk the golf course.
The Tour also plans to reintroduce the honorary observers program beginning at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and has granted access on competition days for player spouses and significant others.
Given the relative success of the Tour’s return some questioned why the circuit would reintroduce more variables to the boundaries of its bubble and the answer is simple – money.
Without fans or pro-ams, tournaments have virtually no income while many of the expenses associated with running a Tour event remain unchanged. According to various sources, the Tour is stepping in to help events bridge the financial gap, but the sooner tournaments can return to something approaching normal the better.
Injury Report. One of the post-quarantine concepts that was making the rounds on Tour was that with so much time off players would return for the circuit’s restart as healthy as they’ve ever been. But a rash of nagging injuries and withdrawals in recent days suggests that’s not the case.
Dustin Johnson became the latest player to tap out when he withdrew from this week’s 3M Open following a first-round 78. Although Johnson said nothing of his ailing back in a post-round interview, he withdrew from the event 30 minutes later.
DJ’s early exit comes a week after Brooks Koepka conceded he continues to struggle with an ailing left knee. Koepka had an MRI last week and said, “nothing is improved, it's still the same. So, we'll figure it out when we're done.”
Even Tiger Woods was severely limited during the first round last week at the Memorial by an ailing back, although he did manage a solid bounce back on the weekend, which leads to an obvious takeaway – rest is overrated.
Unprecedented times. Although it’s led to some awkward moments, the Tour’s clarification to its health and safety policy to allow players who continue to test positive for COVID-19 to compete is a testament to the circuit’s ability to pivot when the situation demands.
What remains to be seen is if the PGA of America will be able or willing to make the same pivot. There are currently two players, Dylan Frittelli and Harris English, who fall under the Tour's “timed out” policy and are qualified for the PGA Championship.
Asked this week how the PGA plans to handle those players, a spokesman issued a statement: “We are continuing to review this particular situation and are discussing it with both our medical advisors and the PGA Tour as well as listening to the most recent CDC guidelines.”
The PGA is likely giving itself as much runway as possible to make a decision regarding the “timed out” players, who have undergone 10 days of isolation and 72 hours without any fever or respiratory issues but continue to test positive, with hopes that they will test negative before the year’s first major in two weeks at TPC Harding Park.
Kicking the can on these players makes sense but recent history suggests PGA officials will have to make a decision eventually. Denny McCarthy, who had originally been included in the “timed out” policy until he registered a negative test last Saturday, is grouped with Frittelli and English for the first two rounds at the 3M Open, suggesting he has tested back into the policy. If that’s the case, it proves yet again how challenging professional golf can be in the age of the coronavirus.