6 lingering questions about the resumption of the PGA Tour season
Stan Badz/PGA Tour
When the PGA Tour announced on Thursday its plans to resume the 2019-’20 season in mid-June at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the news provided an outline for when high-level competitive golf might—emphasis on might—be played again. Even if the timeline seems ambitious—on Friday the European Tour declared it would be shut down at least until late July—the framework now exists, and with no other major sports leagues having committed to an exact return date, there’s a glimmer of hope for golf fans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, for the restart to begin on time, there remain several lingering questions that will need answers. Here are a few.
Is mid-June a realistic start date?
No one knows what the world will look like in two months, but the Tour’s confidence that it will be able to play again at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth on June 11, albeit without spectators, relies mostly on the development and availability of testing—be it in the form of saliva, finger prick or an antibody test.
“We’re optimistic, but I’m not going to say on this call that I have 110 percent certainty,” Andy Pazder, PGA Tour Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations, said on Thursday. “But we are very confident that we will be able to play that second week in June.”
What about testing? How is that going to work?
Good question, and one Tour officials, like many things here, are still trying to figure out. Again, much of their thought process revolves around what they expect will happen in two months’ time. It’s possible players could be tested before they leave home, once they arrive at a host hotel and then again at the tournament. Whatever the system, Tour officials as high up as PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan have reiterated the importance of testing in order for the new schedule to proceed.
“We need to have widespread, large-scale testing across our country,” Monahan said on Friday while appearing on NBC Sports Network’s “Lunch Talk Live” with Mike Tirico. “We’re going to need to be able to test players, caddies and other constituents before we return, but we need to do so in a way that’s not going to take away from the critical need that we’re currently facing, and we feel confident, based on the advice that we’re getting from medical experts, that we’ll be in that position.”
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Without fans at the first four tournaments, what might those events look like?
If nothing else they’re going to be a lot quieter. Without the cheers and interaction from fans, the energy of the events will be different, as was seen during the second round of last fall’s Zozo Championship in Japan, when spectators weren’t allowed on the course due to damage from storms the previous day. But having no fans will help reduce the support staff needed to pull things off, making the overall tournament environment safer and less vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus. Under normal circumstances, it takes as many as 1,500 people, including players and caddies, to put on a regular Tour event. With that operation cut to a bare-bones minimum—no valet car parkers, player dining, etc.—the number could get down to 750 people, players and caddies included. Golf tournaments, even those without fans, still have a lot of moving parts.
With many travel bans still in place, how will international players be affected?
The Tour said that there are at least 25 players and more than 35 caddies currently outside the United States. If travel restrictions aren’t lifted by the time play resumes, the Tour would have to make decisions about those players’ eligibility, which could mean extending them into the 2020-’21 season.
Speaking of eligibility, will players still need to finish inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list keep to keep their cards for next season?
If all goes as planned and the 2019-’20 season plays out as currently scheduled, it would consist of 36 events (out of 49 originally scheduled). Tour officials say that would make for a “credible” season, so the usual rules would apply.
What if it doesn’t start on time or loses more tournaments? Pazder said there is no standard for what constitutes the aforementioned “credible” season, so it's TBD. However, the Tour also is looking at a “hybrid” model, according to PGA Tour Chief of Operations Tyler Dennis, in which players would maintain some eligibility for events the following the season if they don’t finish in the top 125. Another option could be merging the 2019-’20 and 2020-’21 seasons into one for eligibility’s sake.
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Will the FedEx Cup Playoffs be impacted?
This is another TBD. Pazder said the Tour is still deciding whether to reduce points for the first two events of the three-tournament Playoffs. Field sizes are also being taken into consideration as a way to provide more playing opportunities for the membership.
As you can see, there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered before the season can resume. But there is a date set. For now. Stay tuned.