Tournament golf is emerging from the pandemic this week, with the PGA Tour leaving lockdown at the Charles Schwab Challenge, still known to us crusties as The Colonial.
Most of the world’s top players, with a few exceptions, have signed up to tour’s annual Dallas/Fort Worth stop at Ben Hogan’s old stomping ground when many wouldn’t have given it a glance in normal circumstances.
Such is the ardour among the elite to get playing again, although it does seem slightly ironic given past health scares, as we’ll discuss below.
Anyway, right on cue the Associated Press’ main sports man in Texas Jim Vertuno yesterday noted that Covid-19 hospitalisations in the state hit the second highest level in a single day of the pandemic, with the positive case rate surging close to double what it was at the end of April.
But hey, it’s great to see Rory and Phil and DJ and Big Jon and Sergio and JT and Jordan and Rickie and Bryson back, right? And they’ll be safe, right?
There’s been praise for the PGA Tour’s “meticulous” plan to create the bubble in which the tournament can be played, but some sage voices have pointed out that it’s not nearly as detailed and meticulous as the European Tour’s plan, which will have a strict bubble with players corralled in quarantined hotels, and that won’t get up and running until July.
John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar and speaking to Golf.com, seemed to suggest that the PGA Tour’s safety blanket has a few holes.
“What happens if we play Colonial and two caddies and player test positive, then the next week three caddies and four players and an official test positive?” he asked. “Is there a contingency for the graph going the wrong way?”
I seem to be alone in this thought, but with the pandemic not really under much control in the USA – the country with the highest infection and death rate in the world – it still appears somewhat reckless to be starting up again.
Furthermore, it also seems to me to be another example of golf’s often blinkered attitude to what’s going on the outside world.
There’s been 110,000 deaths and counting from this scourge in the US – that’s the equivalent of 36 9/11s – and some are arguing that a golf tournament is a necessary force for optimism?
And that’s before you even start to consider the outrage and protests over social justice which have broken out in the country in the past week.
In that respect, forming a bubble away from the outside world was never a problem for golf. We’ve been operating in one for 250 years, after all.
A lame excuse newly exposed
Dave Seanor of Golf World hit the nail on the head when he deftly compared the enthusiasm of the elite players to compete at Colonial with golf’s most recent health “scare”.
As Dave pointed out, there were a succession of withdrawls from the Rio Olympics due to the threat of the Zika virus which was supposedly prevalent in Brazil. This, despite the fact that the most likely form of transmission of Zika was through sexual intercourse with an infected person, suggesting some were planning an Olympic experience we hadn’t quite imagined.
Clearly, the chances of being infected with Covid-19 are multiple times greater than Zika, yet they’re all showing up in Texas this week.
Zika was, as we wrote at the time, simply a lame excuse for players who didn’t want to leave their comfort zone.
The other factor, of course, is money; there was none in Rio, and in a spectacularly blinkered attitude to a world where millions have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, the Colonial is being played for the full $6 million plus prizefund this week.
And we’re not much better over here…
Once golf had been given the privilege – because that’s what it was – of restarting early in the UK and Ireland, one hoped that the chorus of whining of those who thought lockdown shouldn’t have applied to them would end. Some hope.
In Ireland, there was an actual constituency of folk moaning that they weren’t allowed to play competitions.
In Scotland, it seems that Scottish Golf is being asked by the government to clamp down on people who are flagrantly flouting the rule that people shouldn’t travel more than five miles to play. There’s a little leeway in that rule for common sense, but a minority have simply been ignoring it.
Far from realising that golf has been given a rare opportunity to lead in showing the rest of society how to come out of lockdown operating safely, the entitled, as usual, are grasping for more.
Golf already has a pretty questionable reputation among the non-golfing general public for a whole bunch of things, some deserved, some not.
There’s been clear evidence that this has actually been an opportunity; more people are signing up to clubs and recognising the health benefits of playing,
Let’s not ruin this by acting like spoiled children. We’re playing, and that should be enough for anyone.