Don't apologize for a game giving meaning to your life
Editor’s note: This is the Editor’s Letter that appears in Issue 5 of Golf Digest (Patrick Cantlay cover). Please read in the context that it was written three weeks ago. You can download the entire issue for free.
This is a normal (I almost never use that word as a compliment) issue of Golf Digest but for two things. It’s the first in the title’s history finished entirely by a remote staff, a necessity that was quickly put into action after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on a higher floor in our office building, One World Trade Center in Manhattan. At the risk of sounding tone deaf when people are losing lives, I must commend our staff for finding a new gear of collaboration across a purely digital workspace. Magazine-making, despite a lot of tech upgrades, remains at its core a physical product borne out of healthy debate with colleagues often at closer than social distance.
The second exception to normalcy is that one of the most important stories was scrapped. That is, our preview of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, which we intended to drop in your mailbox about three weeks before the event to get you primed. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns coined, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Embracing this wisdom in uncertainty, I’m hesitant to type anything at all here. For it is also the nature of printing and shipping magazines that our words land in the future. At the moment, I’m comfortably quarantined at home with ripping Wi-Fi, a stocked pantry and happy children who know only that they’ve been getting more pajamas-and-cartoons time than usual. But there are people working on the front lines of our essential industries, as well as those not working at all. As our world braces to be drastically reshaped, is it heedless to wonder what will become of golf?
I don’t think so. There’s no reason to apologize for a game giving meaning to your life. Sports bring us out into the natural world alongside friends to experience health and the intense emotional highs and lows of being alive. The thought of a continued sort of purgatory locked at home scares me.
Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America and formerly the CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, has lived through crises: September 11, the stock-market crash of 2008, and now this. We ran into each other in the locker room at Seminole Golf Club on a relatively carefree weekend when the elbow greeting was just catching on. Neither of us knew it’d be our last real round of golf for quite some time, complete with regulation cups, scorecards, rakes and a social drink afterward. Ten days later, by phone, we spoke after he postponed the PGA Championship. His tone was solemn, though working from home amid the bounce of dogs, family and more than a few millennial refugees, Waugh admitted he was “having more fun than anybody else in the house.”
“Every house in America is one week away from being a reality TV show,” Waugh said. “We all love each other, and it’s all good, but the prospect of no other human contact for 60 days is daunting.”
Let us mark this moment. I now write from the time when global cases are over 740,000 and the death toll has eclipsed 35,000. The lead manufacturing problem has switched from hand sanitizer to ventilators. On March 27, President Trump signed the $2-trillion stimulus package. To the Golf Digest reader of the future: We hope the worst is behind us by the time you read these words.
“What’s weird is this requires the exact opposite response we’ve always had to other crises, where we tried to create activity, to go out and spend money to get ourselves out of the hole,” Waugh said. “But now the only way to be a patriot is to stay at home. We have to commit a sort of economic suicide in order to kill the virus. . . . But just as you learn a lot about people during a round of golf, you learn even more during a time of crisis.”
Waugh’s referring to the spirit of cooperation that emerged among the heads of golf’s families as they work on scenarios for squeezing in all the majors and a Ryder Cup in 2020. No matter how many are played, or when, what’s unprecedented—to reclaim that word stolen by the coronavirus—is that Waugh’s on a group text chain that includes Jay Monahan (PGA Tour), Mike Davis (USGA), Fred Ridley (Augusta National), Martin Slumbers (Royal and Ancient), Keith Pelley (European Tour), Mike Whan (LPGA Tour) and Will Jones (World Golf Hall of Fame).
“Jay has been such an amazing partner through all this,” Waugh said. “He was the one who first offered giving us one of his weeks in August.” For now, Waugh is not returning tents to rental companies amid a thousand other details in hopes that his organization’s tournament will be played at Harding. “We’re lucky that San Francisco is pretty much a 12-month golf season. Of course, what did Mark Twain supposedly say about the coldest winter he ever spent being a summer in San Francisco?”
Golf fans huddled in a cold marine fog with the condensation droplets on their noses safely devoid of coronavirus—this would be welcome.
Cut day of the PGA Championship would have been on May 15, 89 years after Ken Venturi was born. The late Hall of Famer built his game at Harding while his parents ran the halfway house. As it is, there are many operations not much larger that are run by the 29,000 members of the PGA who now need Waugh’s attention.
“Most small businesses aren’t set up to survive more than a month, let alone a quarter with no revenue, and that’s most golf courses,” Waugh said. Safety measures like mandatory online bookings and walking-only have been among the early efforts to keep the game going, but the true impact of the virus across all levels of golf will not be known for some time. Until then, we can cheer on those directing their abundance toward good. To cite just one example of many, chef Rhy Waddington of Winged Foot Golf Club—where the U.S. Open was postponed from June—worked fast with his team to donate excess food inventory, brought about by the club’s temporary closing, to Million Gallons, a charity aiming to cook a million gallons of soup for those left displaced by the coronavirus.
In the beginning, some dismissed the spread of the virus as a double bogey. But of course, this global pandemic firmly belongs in the category of “other.” If golf teaches us anything, it’s to be resilient and adaptable in the wake of disasters. I’m stirred to imagine how our game will contribute meaningfully to bring about the changed world that awaits on the other side of this delay.
Until the horn sounds, we hope the “normal” stories in this issue provide some measure of escape. When play resumes, we shall do so with more gratitude than ever.