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Let them play? PGA Tour's coronavirus response too sluggish, not forceful enough

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Oklahoma City Thunder head medical staffer Donnie Strack sprinted on to his team’s home court moments before Wednesday’s tipoff with urgent news.

It’s an image that will stick in the minds of NBA fans for a long time.

He raced to inform officials that Jazz center Rudy Gobert was confirmed ill with the COVID-19 disease.

Twenty minutes after he reached center court, the teams were sent back to their locker rooms; 20 minutes after that, fans were sent home; and 50 minutes after that, the NBA season was put on hold.

It took 90 minutes for all that to transpire.

The swift decisiveness of it all stands in juxtaposition to the PGA Tour’s reaction to the growing coronavirus threat.

Why isn’t the PGA Tour reacting more proactively, like the NBA?

Hell, like almost everyone else in sports now?

The Players Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

The Players Championship marched on Thursday while one major sport after another postponed games or canceled major events and even entire seasons.

Major League Baseball canceled spring training Thursday and is pushing back Opening Day at least two weeks.

The NHL suspended its season until further notice.

The NCAA canceled its basketball tournament and all its remaining winter and spring championships.

The MLS postponed games for at least 30 days.

The XFL canceled its season.

And the LPGA postponed its next three tournaments, including a major championship. The women won’t be playing the Volvik Founders Cup in Phoenix, the Kia Classic outside San Diego and ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, California.

“If I’m being totally honest, I feel fairly confident we could probably play Phoenix,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said Thursday on Golf Central’s "Live From The Players" telecast. “Maybe we could even play Carlsbad without our fans. But can I live with it if I’m wrong? If I’m wrong, I’ll regret that the rest of my life. 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.”

Chamblee: 'Don't really see upside to continue to play'

Chamblee: 'Don't really see upside to continue to play'

The PGA Tour played on Thursday, albeit with news that new safety precautions will be put in place going forward. At mid-day, commissioner Jay Monahan announced the gates to TPC Sawgrass will be closed to spectators beginning Friday. For now, the plan is to soldier on this way, to play the Valspar Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and the Valero Texas Open without fans.

“It goes without saying that this is an incredibly fluid and dynamic situation,” Monahan said. “We have been and are committed to being responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process.”

It’s so fluid and dynamic that staging any PGA Tour event now feels awkward, at best.

The most responsible option is to shut down every tournament for the foreseeable future.

No players, no fans.

Shut down The Players Championship and everything else until the experts have time to evaluate this pandemic’s actual impact in its spread across U.S. borders, to better understand statistically and anecdotally what the real threat is.

The most thoughtful option is to help the CDC prevent the kind of spike in infections that can overwhelm health-care personnel and put the most at-risk victims in danger.

The reasonable short-term route is to give our best science and medical minds time to see what we’re all really dealing with.

How a surreal day played out at Sawgrass

There has never been a day in PGA Tour history like Thursday at TPC Sawgrass. With fans prohibited the remainder of the week, that will continue to be the case.

Count world No. 1 Rory McIlroy among those with trepidation.

“Let’s just hope that nothing happens to our sport that we need to shut it down,” McIlroy said after his round.

And what if a PGA Tour player tests positive for the virus?

“We need to shut it down then,” he said. “That’s the thing, more than anything else, everyone needs to get tested.”

Why wait for that?

Yes, the NBA’s threat was more serious than anything the PGA Tour faced here, with an NBA player actually contracting the virus, but the PGA Tour should have more quickly seen the implications. The Tour should have seen the more real possibility that one of their own players could be next.

No doubt, this is an agonizing process for Monahan, even with a Tour task force that includes medical experts, even with direction from the WHO, CDC and public health officials. Working against all that national news flooding in Wednesday night, there was local support for opening Thursday’s gates, a more normal pattern of life helping justify the Tour’s decision.

“We're in St. Johns County,” Monahan said. “We’re working very closely [with county officials]. This is where we live.

“We have all the right people and resources in place here. My daughters, Sophie and Phoebe, they got up and went to school today. The businesses are open. The St. Johns Town Center is open. Movie theaters are open. Theme parks are open. And when we talked to those officials, and they tell us that they're comfortable with us continuing to move forward with this event, with fans, that's what we did. That’s what we do.”

Nobody should envy Monahan’s predicament, and the hard question that won’t go away.

Why play on, even with no fans, when just about everyone else in sport is shutting down?

Who wants to hoist a trophy wondering if the guy who handed it to you washed his hands? Who wants to take it home wondering if it comes with an unexpired incubation period?