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Coronavirus positive tests for big stars, concern over fans show PGA Tour still not close to normal

Golfweek logo Golfweek 10/25/2020 Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
Adam Scott holding a golf club: Adam Scott U.S. Open First Round © Provided by Golfweek Adam Scott U.S. Open First Round

For the most part, the PGA Tour has done a terrific job of navigating its way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in June with the first tournaments after a three-month suspension of play, the Tour has continued to play, not canceling a tournament and not losing too many golfers in any given week to positive tests.

But the last two weeks haven’t been great ones for the Tour on the coronavirus front in several different ways, including an interesting quote from one of the Tour’s highest-profile players.

Consider that in the last three weeks, the Tour has seen just three players head to quarantine with positive tests. That’s a pretty good ratio compared to the entire field. But it is who those players are that have added to the anxiety over the virus.

First there was Tony Finau withdrawing from the Shiners Hospitals for Children tournament in Las Vegas. The next week, still in Las Vegas, saw world No. 1 Dustin Johnson withdraw from the CJ Cup with a positive test.

This week, with Finau back in action, it was former world No. 1 Adam Scott who tested positive and withdrew. Scott famously didn’t play in some events when the Tour restarted in June, not convinced the threat of the virus was reduced enough. He also hasn’t played since the U.S. Open in September.

Then came the news that Phil Mickelson was not terribly happy to hear that the Vivint Houston Open in two weeks will allow a limited number of fans onto the course during the tournament. In fact, Mickelson said, if there are fans on the course in Houston, he will skip the event and play in the PGA Tour Champions event that week. If the PGA Tour Champions event in Phoenix also allows fans, Mickelson would revert to playing in Houston as he prepares for the Masters the following week.

Zozo Championship © Provided by Golfweek Zozo Championship

Phil Mickelson reacts after his tee shot on the 11th hole during the second round of the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club. Photo by Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Video: Tiger Woods struggles at the Zozo Championship (Yahoo! Sports)

Replay Video

Normal is a long way away

And so it goes in the sports world these days. If a journeyman player tests positive for the coronavirus, not many people notice. If a star tests positive, it’s a big deal for the event and for fans. And if a player opts out of an event, which is what Mickelson might do at Houston, it shows fans that many of the athletes today are still focused on COVID-19 and health and wellness.

Certainly, the latest headlines have fans wondering when things will get back to normal and when they might be able to buy a ticket and go watch the best players in the world play.

There is no question that most sports, including golf, still have a strange feel with no fans in the stands. Mickelson might be in the minority when it comes to having fans back on the course sooner rather than later, but it does show that athletes in our favorite sports remain vulnerable to COVID-19, and they know it.

At least the PGA Tour isn’t experiencing canceled tournaments. The LPGA has lost two events in the last week, both of its tournaments in Australia. With three events in Asia expected to follow suit because of quarantine rules and travel restrictions, the LPGA could easily lose five of its first six events of 2021, a year after those three Asian events were the first real cancellations in golf this year.

What all this means is that nothing is assured in sports these days, even on a PGA Tour that has been a model for how to get events played. What top players might have to withdraw from the Masters in three weeks, a tournament that will already be missing its massive and vocal gallery? If Mickelson doesn’t want fans in Houston, how would he feel about fans in La Quinta in January at the American Express, a tournament where he is the host?

The PGA Tour has been without cheering crowds for five months and has seen a relative small number of positive COVID-19 tests. But with the news of the last few weeks, it’s apparent the Tour is a long way from anything that will look like a normal event for a while.


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