In the words of Freddie Mercury, “The Show Must Go On.”
That was the major takeaway from PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s impromptu press conference at the Travelers Championship on Wednesday.
Unlike the PLAYERS Championship, which canceled after sports leagues suspended operations in March, the Travelers Championship will start on Thursday.
Even in the backdrop of three positive COVID-19 cases this week: golfer Cameron Champ, Graeme McDowell’s caddie Ken Comboy, and Brooks Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott.
The PGA TOUR's statement and an overview of withdrawals from the Travelers Championship field: https://t.co/AeV7alkla0
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 24, 2020
“We all need to remind ourselves that we’re all learning to live with this virus, and we all need to learn to live with this virus, both as individuals, as family members, and certainly within our businesses,” Monahan said to reporters on Wednesday. “It’s pretty clear that this virus isn’t going anywhere.”
Champ, McDowell, and Koepka all withdrew from the Travelers Championship due to the positive COVID-19 tests. Webb Simpson, last week’s RBC Heritage winner, and Chase Koepka, Brooks’ brother who qualified on Monday, also announced their withdrawals on Wednesday, citing “caution” as the reason, rather than a positive test.
— Brooks Koepka (@BKoepka) June 24, 2020
“The right thing to do right now is to get home, support Ricky, and feel confident that I’m doing what I can do protecting my fellow TOUR members, my PGA Tour friends, and everyone associated with the Travelers Championship this week,” Koepka said in a statement.
Before the PGA Tour restarted at the Charles Schwab Challenge, health and safety guidelines were outlined in a 37-page document. No fans were allowed. Social distancing was a reality. Players traveled on a chartered plane from one tournament to the next.
Despite the changes, COVID-19 cases appeared.
Is it a by-product of these pandemic times or could the PGA Tour have prevented this?
Asked whether he expects more positive tests, Monahan responded: “I don’t think anybody should be surprised. I’m certainly hopeful we won’t. But to be able to say that we’re going to not have any cases, and to be able to look you in the eye across the television screen and say we’re not going to have any cases would be disingenuous because we are all learning as we’re going.”
As sports organizations like the PGA Tour continue to learn and adapt, the virus is infecting Americans at an alarming rate. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 34,313 new cases on Wednesday, with a total of 2.3 million across the country and 121,117 deaths. 3,286 new cases occurred in Florida on Wednesday, 5,489 in Arizona.
Numbers like these are unavoidable. This is the backdrop that the PGA Tour is resuming under.
The guidelines required improvement. Stricter enforcement of social distancing is a must since many players and caddies were “high fiving” and standing closer together. Testing needs to be increased, so contract tracing can occur accurately.
Earlier Wednesday, the PGA Tour announced that 1,000 WHOOP straps were procured to players, media, caddies, and essential workers, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I think over the first couple weeks, we’ve seen some instances where let’s say we’ve gotten a little bit lax or away from protocol,” Monahan said. “All of us have an extraordinary responsibility to follow those protocols. For any individual that does not, there will be serious repercussions, and I’m not going to get into the specifics of it.”
On Thursday morning, players will tee it up at TPC River Highlands, marking the start of another Travelers Championship. The chatter of birdies, strokes gained, the leaderboard, and clinching putts will dominate the next four days.
But the safety and health precautions must be taken seriously.
For better or for worse, the PGA Tour is marching on.
With a deadly virus still at large.