Coronavirus
March 13, 2020

Tour pros react to Masters, PGA Tour news, prep for unexpected layoff

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Stan Badz

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — One by one, players made their way into the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass on Friday morning. Many arrived dressed in shorts and t-shirts or hoodies and flip-flops, to pack their bags, uncertain of what lay ahead, after the PGA Tour canceled the Players Championship and announced it was suspending the season through the Valero Texas Open in three week due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Tour pros were alerted via text message just before 10 p.m. (EDT) on Thursday that the tournament would not go after most of the first round had been contested during the day. PGA Tour officials formally announced the news in a statement shortly thereafter. Rory McIlroy didn’t find out until he woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Friday.

“It’s the right decision,” the World No. 1 and 2019 Players champion said. “I stood up there [Thursday] after playing and was, like, doing what they did was a step in the right direction. But they were saying they were taking it hour by hour and seeing how it would all play out, and yeah, here we are.”

It was a quick about face from Thursday afternoon, when PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said the tournament would continue, only without spectators for the final three rounds at TPC Sawgrass and its next three events. But as more and more players raised questions about everything from logistics to safety issues related to the growing Coronavirus crisis, and the news broke of Disney theme parks and Universal Studios in nearby Orlando shutting down, Monahan said the tour could no longer proceed.

Then at 10 a.m. on Friday, Augusta National announced it was postponing next month’s Masters. No makeup date has been set.

“Firstly, I think without question, the right decision,” Paul Casey said of pulling the plug on the Players. “[Thursday] was a strange one. I teed off early, the vibe just wasn’t right. You could sense with the great crowds that we always get here, it was just sort of an underlying feeling that just -- was this the right thing?”

Casey added that he wasn’t surprised to hear the Masters was postponed.

"This is now a pandemic,” he said. “The ladies and gentlemen that run that great event have very smart minds and are taking the right precautions.

“I think we as a collective in the golf community felt that we were taking the necessary precautions and it was important to continue. But obviously it got to a tipping point and we realized that that’s not the right thing to be doing.”

Among those tipping points was also the news that NBA players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell had tested positive for COVID-19 each of the last two days, according to some players.

“I’m glad they [canceled],” Gary Woodland said. “It would’ve been very insensitive for us to show up and play, whether there’s fans there or not.

“I didn’t think [us playing on Thursday] was the right thing to do. The world’s in a panic right now. All the other leagues canceled. It’s scary. One person gets infected, who knows what happens.”

What players will do for the foreseeable future is also unknown.

“Go fishing,” said Cameron Smith.

“I’ll try to keep the game sharp,” added Billy Horschel, who also said he’ll look into getting tested for Coronavirus.

“Right now it’s just get home and try to minimize contact with as many people as I can,” said Jason Day.

As for the Masters, few were surprised by its postponement.

“It almost seemed like it was just inevitable as far as where things were heading across our country in sports and through different organizations,” Rickie Fowler said. "I stick by the tour and Jay and everyone’s decision to obviously move forward with what everyone else is doing, as well. And the Masters being postponed, not, obviously, canceled or pushed back yet. But it’s all about the safety and wellness of our country and all the people.”

Added Day: “I think right now everyone is nervous about what has been going around. But I think it’s the necessary steps that need to be taken in regards to the safety and health of not only players, but just the general population.

“We need to get in front of this and try and make sure that we don’t have any setbacks going forward. I think that’s the main key is to understanding what we’re trying to obviously get past and moving on from there. But I think Augusta made the right decision in that.”

When the Masters will be played is still to be determined but there was a silver lining to the otherwise bleak day of news on Friday.

Said Augusta native Charles Howell III of the Masters: “The best word of the release was ‘postpone’ and not ‘cancel.’”