MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, Harris English began his third round at 11:20 a.m., just two hours before the final group was set to go off. While he was eight shots back, he wasn't far enough out of the hunt to lose interest, especially with 36 holes still to play.
The veteran English has begun plenty of Saturdays on the PGA Tour like this. Yet, as the sweltering afternoon at Muirfield Village wore on, nothing felt right.
On a crowded leaderboard, English was all alone – literally.
“Saturday at Memorial was pretty tough playing by myself in the middle of the day," said English, who tested positive for COVID-19 last month. "It didn’t feel like I was part of the tournament.”
Luckily for English, he will soon feel a part of the action again after the Tour announced Monday an end to what has been known as "coronavirus groups."
The decision is a pivot from a previous policy that, in accordance with CDC guidelines, restricted players who continued to test positive for COVID-19 but had gone at least 10 days of isolation since the initial test and 72 hours without fever or respiratory symptoms. Those "timed out" players weren’t allowed inside the locker room, clubhouse or fitness center, and were forced to either play alone or with other "timed out" players.
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The 31-year-old English became the fifth Tour player to test positive for COVID-19 while playing the Travelers Championship in late June. After the diagnosis, he was disappointed, a little scared, and like many who have been caught up in the pandemic, he started searching for answers.
“I thought I was going to start testing negative after 12 or 14 days,” English said.
That didn't happen. In fact, Tuesday marked exactly a month since English first tested positive, and he continues to test positive each week.
Until Monday, the Tour's stance on such circumstances afforded English plenty of quality time with two other players who continued to test positive, Dylan Frittelli and Denny McCarthy.
“Denny and Dylan and I had a good little bond the last few weeks," English said. "We could be real with each other about having COVID-19 and feeling like we were outcasts.”
While English was quick to commend the Tour for even allowing him to play in the first place, he admitted that the past two weeks have been difficult – even if English's play hasn't reflected with top-20 finishes at the Memorial and last week's 3M Open.
“It was the weirdest part of the last few weeks: I didn’t feel like I was part of the tournament," English said. "I couldn’t go in the clubhouse, couldn’t go in the fitness trailer; it was kind of like we were viewed as if we had Leprosy.”
During his "timed out" period, English took a crash course on the novel coronavirus, learning some experts contend that an infected person is no longer contagious after 10 days of an initial positive test. The Tour’s own medical expert, Dr. Tom Hospel, admitted as much when they initially introduced the "timed out" policy, though the Tour went through with it to appease some players who voiced concern.
However, thanks to a vote by the Tour's policy board, English, McCarthy and Frittelli will be allowed to return back into the general population as soon as possible. (English and Frittelli are off this week, but McCarthy is playing the Barracuda Championship).
“I am thankful they are letting me become a part of the tournament again,” English said. “I’m glad the Tour is making the adjustments to its policy and Andy Levinson [the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration] has been good at making decisions and adjustments as we move along.”
The bigger change for English will be a return to something approaching normal. Although he had friends on Tour who supported him throughout his ordeal, he conceded that there were others who clearly weren't comfortable with English's presence at Tour events.
“I felt like I was aware of it more, not wanting to put guys in uncomfortable positions,” English said. “I don’t feel like guys understand the new information that’s come out. I’m thinking some players were uncomfortable with us being out here, but I felt like they didn’t have all the information.”
It remains to be seen if the PGA of America will follow the Tour’s lead and allow English and Frittelli, who are both qualified, to compete at next week’s PGA Championship.
But after an eventful few weeks, English is simply looking forward to competing the way he always has.
“I took for granted all the facilities we have on Tour, all the tools we have to succeed out there is pretty incredible,” he said. “I’m pumped to be back in the fold.”