Five weeks after the season was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, PGA Tour officials released an ambitious schedule Thursday that will have an event nearly every week through Dec. 6 – as long as they’re given the all-clear sign from government and health officials.
The Tour is now scheduled to resume June 11-14 at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, and the next two months will provide more clarity on the viability of the Tour’s plan.
Following the schedule release, Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer, and Tyler Dennis, the Tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations, held a teleconference with reporters.
There was plenty to digest.
So, let’s get started with the answers to some of golf’s burning questions – which, naturally, led to even more questions.
How did the Tour settle on June 11 for a restart date?
That’s later than the Tour originally intended to resume, but three additional weeks opened up following the postponement of the U.S. Open (now in September), the cancelation of The Open Championship (see you in 2021) and the rescheduling of the Olympic Games to 2021. Much can happen with three more weeks of information-gathering and planning, and so, Pazder said, moving things back can “increase the odds in our favor collectively” to resume at Colonial. And given the Tour’s sponsor relationship with Charles Schwab, it was a natural place to return.
How confident are Tour officials that they can pull this off?
It depends on what the world looks like in two months. Excluding fans for at least the first four events helps, but their confidence level will largely be dictated by the development and widespread availability of testing. From rapid-response (finger-prick and saliva) to antibody testing, the Tour is optimistic it will be able to develop a strong testing protocol that mitigates risk as much as possible. “I’m not saying on this call that I have 110-percent certainty,” Pazder said, “but we’re very confident that we’ll be able to play that second week in June.”
Is there a deadline for when the Tour has to decide on each tournament’s readiness?
Nope. It’s on a case-by-case, tournament-by-tournament, community-by-community basis. Though some restrictions are likely to be lifted in the next two months, it’s worth noting the current situation for some of the first few events on the new Tour schedule: Texas (Colonial) is currently requiring a 14-day quarantine for some incoming travelers; Connecticut (Travelers) is one of the original epicenters of the coronavirus; and Michigan (Rocket Mortgage), and Detroit in particular, has been one of the hardest-hit areas.
“We will play only when we are certain that it is safe and responsible to do so,” Pazder said.
So, no spectators for at least a month. Who is allowed then?
Essential personnel only. That would entail players and caddies, obviously, as well as tournament officials, rules staff, the broadcast team, some members of the host organization and likely a set number of walking scorers.
What about media members?
Thanks for thinking of us! The Tour says we’re currently one of the groups under evaluation. Certainly, the media-center experience would be different. And there’d likely be limited (or no) range or locker-room access. Says Dennis: “My hope is that we can provide access in some way, shape or form, to be determined.”
Will the TV broadcast look any different?
Yes, potentially. For starters, there will be no fans for at least the first month (and potentially much longer). But broadcasting a live Tour event is a massive undertaking, and so the Tour will need to mitigate any safety concerns for the TV crew, too. What does that mean for personnel in the production truck and on the ground? That remains to be seen.
CBS is broadcasting 11 consecutive events, through The Northern Trust, before NBC takes over for the final two playoff events. “We’re looking at it as an opportunity with our broadcast partners to introduce some innovative ideas,” Dennis said. Stay tuned.
How is testing going to work?
This is one of the key questions that needs to be answered, and the Tour doesn’t yet have a definitive plan (or at least wasn’t willing to share publicly). They’re in the evaluation stage, with the expectation that testing will become more widely available over the next few months.
In a normal week, it’s possible that Tour players could be tested before they leave home, once again at the host hotel and also on-site at the tournament venue. The Tour is hoping to provide more details on its protocols in the coming weeks, but needless to say, testing in the U.S. needs to be significantly ramped up for sports to be reintroduced.
How will players interact during a Tour round?
By now, we’re familiar with most of the precautions that courses around the country have taken to comply with CDC guidelines: Social distancing, a single rider per cart, no bunker rakes, no touching the flagstick, no ball washers or coolers, etc.
The Tour is in the process of mapping out what a typical day would look like, and Dennis said, “I think the daily life of a PGA Tour golfer and his caddie won’t be tremendously different. We’re just going to have to have some nuances to relate to social distancing and safe sanitation practices.”
So that could mean a subtle change to minor details like spacing on the range, first-tee greetings, scorecards, rakes and flagsticks.
Right now, the United States has suspended travel into the U.S. from 28 European countries, in addition to other areas. What about the Tour’s international players?
The Tour is aware of at least 25 players (and more than 35 caddies) who live outside the U.S. and could potentially run into issues with the international travel ban currently in effect. If those restrictions are not lifted, the Tour could make further decisions on those players’ eligibility that would extend into the 2020-21 season.
This is getting messy. So what happens to the traditional top-125 cutoff and Korn Ferry Tour promotions?
Like most things now, they’re subject to change. If the PGA Tour is able to restart in mid-June and play through the rest of the season – granted, a big if right now – then its 2019-20 season would consist of 36 events (of the previously scheduled 49). Playing nearly three-quarters of the tournaments, according to the Tour, would constitute a “credible” season. Thus: The usual end-of-season promotion and relegation.
But what if they had to lose another month of events? Or more? The Tour said there is no threshold to reach before it’s considered a legit season.
Officials are looking, however, at a “hybrid option” in which Tour players could retain some type of access for the following season if they fail to crack the top 125. That would then trickle down to the top performers on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Another scenario: If the Tour doesn’t play enough events to comprise what it says is a “credible” season – or if, say, the international players face travel restrictions – then it could merge the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons for eligibility purposes. For the top players on the Korn Ferry Tour, that’d mean no promotion to the big tour until at least fall 2021.
Will anything change with the FedExCup Playoffs?
Well, as previously announced, the three-event postseason will be held a week later, with the Tour Championship now (once again) finishing up on Labor Day. The Tour is evaluating whether to reduce the playoff points for the first two tournaments. Instead of four times the value of the regular season, a points change could be made to perhaps a multiplier of three. And if the goal is to provide more playing opportunities for the members, field sizes must also be considered.
As for the 2020-21 season, the Tour is not planning any adjustments to the FedExCup points system, even though there is the potential to count six major championships in that window.
Anything else we need to know?
The Canadian Open and Barbasol Championship are canceled for this year. The Greenbrier event will no longer be a part of the Tour schedule (RIP!).
Oh, and as of this writing, PGA Tour golf is only 56 days away. We hope.