Though there are far more pressing matters in the world right now, that historic week in golf does warrant some kind of wrap-up. Especially since this will be the last Monday Scramble for the foreseeable future.
So let's dive in:
1. After sports leagues were shut down following the spread of the coronavirus, The Players Championship was canceled after one round – and then so was at least the next month of PGA Tour events.
TAKEAWAY: It’s been a challenging few months for Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who finalized the media rights deal for the next decade, warded off a challenge from the upstart Premier Golf League (more on that in a bit) and now has dealt with the most serious global pandemic in our lifetimes. We’ll address the latter issue here, because it wasn’t Monahan’s best week.
After Monahan appeared earlier in the week to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19, saying that the Tour was “full steam ahead” with its flagship event, the sports landscape shifted dramatically over a 48-hour span – and the Tour appeared ill-prepared. With only one confirmed case in St. Johns County, the first round proceeded as scheduled with fans, only for Monahan and Co. to reverse course midway through the opening round and ban fans for the remainder of the tournament – and at least the next three events. That created a weird dynamic: Thursday was deemed safe enough for tens of thousands of fans to cram together and watch the world's best, but not the rest of the week?
Later that night they issued a detailed operations plan for the next three rounds, but then changed their mind – again – three hours later and canceled the rest of the event. So what happened? According to Monahan, the tipping point was the unprecedented closure of Disney World. In a subdued presser the next day, Monahan said that he wanted to “fight” for the Tour, the players and the fans, but shouldn’t he have instead been fighting the virus and trying to keep everyone as safe as possible?
The Tour eventually made the right decision – just a few days late.
2. At least the next three events (Valspar, WGC-Dell Match Play, Valero Texas Open) on the Tour calendar are canceled.
TAKEAWAY: With the spread of COVID-19 and the country careening toward a shutdown, the Tour had no choice but to cancel events for the next month. That’d allow players to reduce travel, limit person-to-person interaction and hunker down at home.
It’s a tough break for those affected tournaments, especially since they plan all year for their one week to shine, but it’s the only possible course of action in what is an unprecedented situation for sports.
Though Monahan initially justified keeping the Tour going by saying that golf is an outdoor sport spread out over 400 acres, it wasn’t that cut and dry. Even a fan-less tournament requires more than 1,500 attendees when including caddies, support staffers, Tour officials, volunteers, course employees, greenskeepers, media and other personnel.
And so now players are left in a strange limbo, practicing and preparing for nothing in particular. Here was my column on golf drifting into the great unknown.
3. Augusta National announced that the Masters has been postponed indefinitely.
TAKEAWAY: In an expected move, Augusta National pushed back the Masters and hoped to reschedule the tournament (and its other amateur endeavors) at a later date in 2020. It’ll mark the first time that the Masters has not been played in March or April.
Exactly when the tournament could be played will take some maneuvering with the schedule.
Typically, Augusta National is closed from late May through the end of September to beat the summer heat. The course is overseeded with ryegrass, so it’d look spectacular in the fall – but will the other interested parties make room in the schedule?
The Ryder Cup is set for the final week of September. The fall portion of the Tour’s 2020-21 schedule will be underway; those tournaments are already locked in and planning to host. There's only a small window of opportunity for the event to be played, which is part of the reason why Jack Nicklaus, among others, believes there won't be a Masters in 2020.
4. Following the Masters postponement and other CDC recommendations, the status of the other three majors is also uncertain.
TAKEAWAY: On Sunday night, the CDC recommended that gatherings of more than 50 people be postponed or canceled for at least the next eight weeks. That means sports – at least without fans – is also on hold until at least mid-May.
That timeframe extends until PGA Championship week, which is scheduled to begin May 14 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. Because the city is already a hotspot for the virus, rumors circulated last week that the PGA was looking to relocate, but the CDC’s memo now makes it more likely that the tournament would be canceled or pushed back.
Same for the U.S. Open, which partially fills out its field through local qualifying that begins next month. New Rochelle, N.Y. – which is less than five miles from U.S. Open venue Winged Foot – currently has a one-mile containment zone policed by the National Guard. And the status of The Open? Well, the European travel ban now includes the United Kingdom.
Could a Masters in October be the only major of the year? Would they just as well wait until April 2021 and start fresh with a new major calendar?
These questions will be answered over the next few months.
5. The Premier Golf League may have suffered a decisive blow after Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm joined Rory McIlroy in saying that they’re fully committed to the PGA Tour.
TAKEAWAY: That should just about do it for the proposed alternative tour, which had hoped to lure 48 of the world’s best with an abbreviated schedule, massive purses and team format. A month after McIlroy said that he’s “out” on the idea, Koepka (to the AP) and Rahm (to Golfweek) confirmed that they won’t join the upstart league, either.
Though the timing was curious with the world on the verge of a shutdown, this seemed like the obvious move after Monahan made the rounds this month and assured the Tour’s stars that the future is bright: That tournament purses will skyrocket, that the end-of-season FedExCup bonus will be enormous and that their voices will continue to be heard. Monahan may not have had a perfect Players week, but his support among the membership has not wavered, as evidenced by their supportive tweets over the past few days.
Maybe the PGL will remain undeterred and forge ahead. But they won’t have the top 3 players in the world. They won’t have the best Americans. And they likely won’t have Tiger Woods, who clearly needs a limited schedule.
That’s not a product worth watching.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
#NeverForget: Hideki Matsuyama. In what will go down as one of the best rounds never recorded, the Japanese star took a two-shot lead and tied the course record at TPC Sawgrass with a 9-under 63 ... only for the score to be wiped out because A) a few stragglers never finished the first round, and B) the rest of the tournament was wiped out.
Did They Actually Have to Vote?: Tiger Woods. He’ll be a Hall of Famer when he’s first eligible, in 2021. Huh. Imagine that.
Now On the Clock: RBC Heritage. The Tour’s Hilton Head stop said that it’s still planning to hold its annual tournament – for now – but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the plug is soon pulled on that, too. It’s scheduled for the week after the Masters.
Feel For ’Em: College golfers. Though the move seemed about a month premature, the NCAA announced that ALL winter and spring championships would be canceled because of coronavirus concerns, including the men’s and women’s golf tournaments. All that work and preparation, for naught. At least the NCAA did the right thing and granted another year of eligibility for seniors.
Raw Deal: C.T. Pan. Citing fears over the virus, Pan was the first player to (rightfully) sound the alarm and withdrew before the first round of The Players, the richest prize in golf. Per Tour regulations, the 144-man field received 50 percent of the $15 million purse – or roughly $52,000 – but not Pan, who never hit a shot in competition, as Monahan tersely pointed out.
Quote of the Week: Mike Whan. With the PGA Tour unsure how to proceed, the LPGA commissioner stepped up and showed admirable leadership, postponing the next three events, including the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. Yes, his circumstances were different, but Whan showed strength poise during a difficult time: “This is a decision I may not like, but I don’t think I’ll ever regret. I just wasn’t willing to live with being wrong.” Bravo.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Everyone. Sigh.