LPGA commissioner Mike Whan believes testing for COVID-19 could be in large supply by the end of May, but he’s building a safety net by pushing back his tour’s re-start another month to mid-July.
He wants to make sure his staff and players have a handle on how testing will work in a revamped world of competition.
He also wants to make sure the communities they are visiting feel good about testing’s prevalence with a global roster of players coming their way.
“I think we’ve bought ourselves a month’s worth of safety and probably sanity, in terms of availability,” Whan said Wednesday in a conference call.
Whan said testing wasn’t the only factor in deciding to move the schedule back another month. Another consideration was not knowing where the LPGA will rank in priority for testing supplies. So was the fact that he had open dates that allowed him to easily move his June events.
“I think we’re taking ourselves out of test crisis mode,” Whan said.
Whan announced Wednesday that the LPGA plans to restart July 15-18 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, Michigan. Twenty-one events, 13 of them rescheduled from their original dates, are set to be played in the second half of the year. That includes all five major championships.
The PGA Tour’s restart is planned a month ahead of the LPGA’s, with the men scheduled to resume play June 11-14 at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
Whan said resources are a factor in when the PGA Tour and other sports leagues plan to re-open, as are the sites they plan to visit.
“If you ask me would I be excited if the PGA Tour got started a month before we did, I probably would, because I do think we'd learn a lot from them,” Whan said. “If the NBA starts up weeks before the LPGA starts up, I'll take my share of abuse, for 'Why were you guys so slow?’ But this is one where I don't mind learning from other people that might be smarter than me, who might have more resources, to make sure that our plan, if it could be bolstered, is bolstered.”
Whan said the LPGA will evaluate each tournament’s viability 45 days ahead of its planned start, that includes whether spectators will be allowed and whether pro-ams will take place.
“I'm not naïve enough not to think that we still need to see progress as it not only relates to the virus and the curve, but, as it relates to testing, and our ability to make sure we can create a safe environment everywhere we play,” Whan said. “But I think we've now bought ourselves enough time, between now and then, to deliver what we believe is a realistic schedule and a realistic operation plan, to deliver a schedule that our athletes and our sponsors will be excited about being a part of.”
Whan said that while testing details continue to be worked out, he has informed players to expect to be tested regularly, at every event.
“I've said that from the beginning; we're not going to get back until I believe we can create an environment that's not just safe for our athletes and our caddies but safe for our staff, safe for the people that are volunteering around our event and for the cities we enter,” Whan said. “We obviously realize when we show up we're a pretty global group, and we're coming from all over the world. I want to make sure that town feels as comfortable as I do about us coming and about us staying healthy along the way. Yeah, I would tell you that a lot of our timeline is built around our comfort level in delivering an operations plan that we think creates a program safe enough for us.”
Whan said Dr. Bruce Thomas, the LPGA medical director, and Heather Daly-Donofrio, chief tour operations officer, were on Tuesday’s White House conference call with representatives of 22 other sports entities to discuss opening up competitions. He also said the LPGA’s work with the PGA Tour, NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports organizations has significantly assisted his staff’s preparations.
“We've learned new sourcing opportunities, we've learned new timelines and even new approaches by talking to other leagues, not just other tours,” Whan said.