If the PGA Tour doesn’t resume by June 11 as scheduled, you’ll have a hint as to just how logistically difficult, medically complex and politically controversial it is to resume any sport.
Circle June. If Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson aren’t on TV four days a week — beginning a shortened Tour schedule — by then, or at least by early July, how on Earth can we imagine that the NBA or NHL season can restart at any point this summer?
If you can’t even get golf going, with two or three players and their caddies in a group, ambling across a vast empty countryside — no sweat, nobody touching or even breathing hard on each other — how can Major League Baseball jam in a truncated 2020 season?
At that point, you can join me in an extra adult beverage and a brief sob.
Our next big data point will be the rescheduled PGA Championship, which is now set to begin Aug. 6. If that event can’t be played, then you know there will be no college football and probably no NFL this year. If you can’t play golf in an open field, with everyone wearing N95 masks and, for all I know, additional personal protective equipment, how can you envision an NFL pileup?
Last week, when I heard the PGA Tour had announced its new schedule, my first reaction — as an avid, average public course hacker and longtime golf writer — was a level of delight that shocked me. Maybe you don’t know how much you miss sports until you are teased with the possibility that they will come back — even just one of them — in a mere seven weeks and two days from Tuesday, not that I’m counting.
Here’s what it’s come to: Given a choice between watching “The Remains of the Day” for a second time or “Kong: Skull Island” a third time, I went with King Kong and Samuel L. Jackson. I’m ready to see somebody hit something or somebody.
If it’s a little white ball — or whatever color Bubba Watson is playing — I’ll take it.
“People [are] starving for inspiration,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said Friday to a 10-media-outlet hookup. “Golf provides that, and sports provide that. We’ve been working day and night with local, city, state and federal officials to determine the right sequence to come back in the safest and most responsible way possible for players, caddies and constituents. …
“Our sport lends itself more than any other sport to social distancing,” added Monahan, who is part of the presidential council to reopen the country.
My golf-appreciating soul was happy at the thought that the sport would get a big break in exposure at a point when its top 70 is as appealing as ever. The old and famous, such as Woods and Mickelson, are balanced with established major champions Koepka, Johnson, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth, plus major-less fan favorites Jon Rahm (No. 2 in the world) and Rickie Fowler. Pretty soon, I wouldn’t have to explain to general sports fans that Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau, Hideki Matsuyama and Tommy Fleetwood were worth watching.
Suddenly, the PGA Championship back in an August time slot, the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September, followed the next week by the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits and a year-crescendo Masters in November had me humming.
Then, as tends to happen in these days of pandemic, reality reentered my cheerful brain.
As Monahan pointed out, the Tour’s membership includes 93 players in 28 foreign countries. What about travel restrictions and border closures? Will the Trump administration rule golf flights “essential?”
A far bigger issue: The Tour has a weekly support staff of more than 600, which would require hundreds of thousands of scarce coronavirus test kits over its proposed schedule.
Talk about a reality check. How many million such test kits would major U.S. sports, all with 30 to 32 franchises, require for their seasons? Not to mention college sports, for those who still harbor such fantasies in a country that has serious doubts about when college campuses can reopen.
“If change is called for, then we [must] be open to change as it relates to health and safety,” Monahan said with maximum vagueness last week.
These days, everything is contaminated with partisan politics. Few care that former presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, all Republicans, were avid golfers, as were John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, all Democrats.
These days, golf is associated with Trump, course builder and infinite-mulligan player. And Trump, in opposition to many or maybe nearly all infectious disease scientists, claims that vastly increased testing is not a priority and perhaps not even a national need.
So does anyone think that, in the current political climate, golf will be able to acquire perhaps 500,000 (and one report estimates 1 million) test kits just so pros can swat little balls?
Perhaps Trump, whose passion for golf is so great that he drives his cart directly across greens to get to the next tee, can be persuaded by his advisers to view testing capacity in a different light. Instead of emphasizing whether those tests will save thousands of lives, they can convince him to see it as integral to what matters most to his agenda: himself.
Without tens of millions more tests, Trump isn’t getting sports back anytime remotely close to “soon,” which means he won’t be able to brag about how he got them back for all of us (voters). Limiting testing means being the person most responsible for preventing the return of our sports. Is that what he wants?
Sports should not be a partisan battleground. Neither should public health, especially when there is a scientific consensus on the huge need for more tests.
Circle those golf dates — June 11 and Aug. 6 — on your mental calendar. They will be the “tells” about the return, or not, of sports in 2020.
If those dates pass without Tiger, Rory, Brooks and Dustin on our TV screens, we will blame the pandemic first. But in second place may be a president who doesn’t think America needs many millions more test kits.