From protocols to bubble busting, we examine the PGA Tour’s eventful last few weeks in this edition of Cut Line.
Protocols. In the wake of more positive tests and some high-profile withdrawals, the PGA Tour tightened its circle this week with the addition of more testing and some not-so-subtle saber-rattling.
Whether or not the changes to the Tour’s protocols were a direct reaction to more positive COVID-19 tests, the addition of another laying of testing for those traveling from tournament to tournament on the charter flight seems prudent given the ever-increasing variables.
The most encouraging move by the Tour was putting some teeth in the protocols, by making the stipend the circuit pays players ($100,000) and caddies ($5,000) who test positive and are forced to self-quarantine, contingent on them following all rules.
“All of us have an extraordinary responsibility to follow those protocols. For any individual that does not, there will be serious repercussions, and I'm not going to get into the specifics of it,” commissioner Jay Monahan said this week. “Everybody knows and needs to know that our future, our ability to sustain this business and to impact the communities where we play and to create so many jobs is contingent on our ability to follow those protocols.”
The Tour is quickly learning how imperfect the world is during a pandemic and, to its credit, is adjusting.
Open for business. Speaking adjustments, the USGA also deserves credit for how it plans to fill the field for this year’s U.S. Open without traditional qualifying.
With all qualifying canceled because of the pandemic, the USGA wanted to create a field that was as close to normal as possible and included players from all parts of the competitive landscape, including amateurs and those competing on lesser-known tours.
“We looked at every possible scenario to have qualifying; it's in our DNA, it's our cornerstone to USGA championships, and we take great pride in that. We view our championships as the ultimate meritocracies in golf where you earn your way in," John Bodenhamer, the USGA's senior managing director of championships, told GolfChannel.com.
Perhaps the most transparent change to the championship’s eligibility criteria was a move to expand to the top 70 players in the world ranking on March 15, when the rankings were frozen and play was halted across all tours. That’s up from the normal top 60. Phil Mickelson, a six-time runner-up at the national championship, ranked 61st in the world on March 15.
Well played, USGA.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Big Bryson. The first two weeks of Bryson DeChambeau’s newest experiment were impressive enough. After packing on 20 pounds and a few mph to his ball speed, he posted top-10 finishes in his first two starts.
Those results are even more impressive when you consider that neither Colonial nor Harbour Town are the kind of courses that DeChambeau could unleash the “Kraken” – his words not mine.
Until now, DeChambeau’s added bulk and length have been a curiosity on Tour. If, as he contends, he hasn’t scratched the surface of that new-found power expect the distance debate to become deafening.
Strength of field. One of the overlooked elements of the Tour’s return to competition has been the depth at venues that don’t normally enjoy the world’s best on a regular basis.
Tournament directors at Colonial, Hilton Head and this week at TPC River Highlands are hoping those top players will like what they see, for the future, and players do seem to be enjoying a break from the norm.
One player who probably won’t be adding the RBC Heritage to his schedule is Rory McIlroy.
“Once I got here and I played the golf course, I sort of remembered why I haven't been here for a while,” McIlroy said. “It's tough. Like, it's a lovely place. There's other courses on Tour that probably fit my game a little bit better, and obviously the week after the Masters is always a tough one.”
It’s Tour golf’s version of, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Bubbles. Golf often struggles when it attempts to borrow phases from other sports. Referring to the circuit’s post-season as a “playoff” is an example of this, and after 2 ½ weeks it’s clear that the term “bubble,” to describe what the Tour is trying to create each week, is also incorrect.
The Tour is trying to create as safe of an environment for players, caddies and officials each week as possible and even as positive tests continue to mount the blueprint is as good as can be expected. But it’s not a bubble.
What the Tour has created feels more like mosquito netting and given the logistics of a travelling circus that bounces through airports and hotels that’s pretty good.
The idea that the Tour could build what the NBA hopes to at Walt Disney World Resort is misguided. Where basketball has a chance in a single location to wall off players and officials from the outside world and possible infection, it’s a luxury the Tour simply doesn’t have.