The 2020 edition of the Players Championship, the PGA Tour's flagship event, had seemingly everything going for it. A fantastic weather forecast in the Jacksonville area, a record-breaking purse and even a ground-breaking media effort to show every shot from every golfer live. Instead, golf fans wound up seeing more of the tour's commissioner, Jay Monahan, who made the rounds in his annual pre-tournament gathering with the press on Tuesday. Then on Thursday, he addressed growing concerns over the coronavirus. And by Friday, Monahan's latest press conference was the only thing to watch from TPC Sawgrass.
Following the PGA Tour's decision to cancel the tournament as well as all events the next three weeks, Monahan met with the media again to provide updates on how this ongoing global pandemic is affecting the tour and the communities it serves. Here are seven takeaways from Monahan's Friday Q&A.
1. International players' worries and two Florida theme parks shutting down played a key role in the decision to cancel the tournament.
“But when you get to, when we got to late in the day and players came off the golf course, and to some of the questions that we received here yesterday, particularly from international players who were trying to figure out, [there was] a lot of uncertainty, trying to figure out what they do with their family, how they get home, how they get their families here, and just uncertainty for a number of players generally. That coupled with the fact that, as I said yesterday, we're talking about the Players Championship, but we're also talking about a number of events going forward, when you looked to that moment in time where you have two theme parks [Disney World and Universal Studios] that are located between Jacksonville and Tampa cancel, to me that really was the thing that was the final … that was the final thing that we had heard that said, you know what, even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we've done all the right things, we can't proceed, and it's not right to proceed. And when you use doing the right thing as the litmus test, to me that was the final …those two things together were really the things that drove the decision.”
2. Postponement was considered, but was not a realistic alternative.
“You know, it was considered. It was an option. It's something we identified early on in this process if we got to this point,” Monahan said. “But when you make a determination that you're cancelling tournaments through the Valero Texas Open, we obviously didn't complete round 1, and we really don't have … we really don't have a purview into how this is all going to develop, we felt like the right thing to do was cancel.”
Monahan added later when asked again about pushing the Players back:
“It's not a possibility. As you look into the rest of the season, we have tournaments in every market [that] are well on their way towards planning their events, to fundraising. You've got charities just like we have here that are counting on those events. And we feel like it was our opportunity to potentially play this week. It didn't happen. And we're going to continue to go forward with the schedule that we've outlined and hopefully we can get back and play as soon as possible.”
3. Title sponsors of tournaments canceled were on board with the decision.
“We have been in contact with all of them over the last several weeks. Certainly that intensified over the last 48 hours. They're fully supportive of the decision we made. They had proper input into the decision we made. And now it's on to, OK, how do we address and help the communities that we vacated? Hold us accountable to that because we're going to do some great things.”
4. Although Monahan says he hasn't “gotten much” sleep the past week, he doesn't regret the decision to play the first round with spectators.
*“And as it relates to any regrets, you know, I go back to … think about this: What has transpired has really transpired in a matter of 24 hours. We were at a reception on Wednesday night, and I got a text that the NBA had suspended play. And we felt like at that point in time, given, as we had talked about on Tuesday, we had taken all the right steps and we were comfortable playing. So at 11, later that night, we determined that, one, we were going to proceed, we were going to play, we were going to continue to follow the path that we were on.
“And then as it relates to fans, we wanted to … we had taken a number of precautionary steps. We were going to come in yesterday and we were going to do everything that we had done that preceded that, which is, let's continue to stay close to this, and if we need to make adjustments, we will. So we quickly determined that we were not going to have fans today and through the weekend. I was really proud of the plan that we have in place. And ultimately we used [Thursday] to get as much information as we could to make the right decision, and we made the decision, and we're obviously not playing today and we're not playing through the Valero Texas Open, and it's a really hard decision. But listen, anytime you make a change to a decision that you originally made, there's an element of maybe we could have done that earlier. But I continue, and we talked about this as a team last night, you go back to what was your decision-making process, how committed were you to it, and what was the criteria that caused you to change. And for me I'm very comfortable that we made the right decision at the right time—or made the right decisions at the right time over the course of the week.”*
5. The Players is still committed to helping the northeast Florida community, including donating food supplies from this week.
“The answer to that is yes. And in the short-term, just to give you a sense … Billy [horschel] is an ambassador for Feeding Northeast Florida, and obviously we've prepared to have over 200,000 people here on property and won't. So one of the things that we're quickly going to get to work on is how do you take all the food supplies that we have here and put them to good use for our community, and that's something that we're going to do immediately. … And as it relates to economic impact, we have the platform of the Players Championship, we have the foundation of the PGA Tour being here. We take our commitment to this community very, very seriously, and we're going to get to the work at hand to make sure that we continue to help our community as everybody tries to make their way forward here.”
6. All golfers who teed it up Thursday at TPC Sawgrass will get a piece of the $15 million purse.
“I'm sure the question is coming, but as it relates to this week, our regulations stipulate that if you complete one round of a championship, we pay 50 percent of the purse. We almost completed one round of this championship, and we will pay 50 percent of the purse to our players equally distributed amongst our players.”
In case you're curious, that comes out to about $52,000 per player for one day's work.
7. No one associated with the PGA Tour has tested positive for Coronavirus, but there is no timetable for returning.
“Well, I guess at this point, given the fact that we're canceled through—we're not playing through the Valero Texas Open, it can happen in the weeks that follow. That's all I know at this point in time. And we're going to continue—obviously, you have the Masters tournament, and they're going to make their decision. And we have to start working very closely with our friends in South Carolina and beyond to really, as I said earlier, understand all the facts and get ourselves ready to be playing the tournament, and we're going to operate as if we are and have been operating as if we are from this point forward.”
Since Monahan's press conference, the Masters has been postponed. The next possible PGA Tour event at this point would be the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, which is why he mentions South Carolina. That tournament is scheduled for the week of April 13. With today being March 13, that means golf fans are in for at least a full month of no golf on TV. In the meantime, Monahan encouraged people to play “the greatest game on the planet” themselves.
“There are a lot of golf courses in this country,” he said. “There are a lot of people that are in this business, in this industry that make their living through this game, and I hope that everybody as they go through this uncertain time gets an opportunity to get out, play golf, be outside, support their PGA of America professional, support this game, be inspired by this game.”