Golf is set to return for what should be a torrid 15-month run after a three-month pause of the PGA Tour schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic. The festivities get underway on June 11 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, with the Charles Schwab Challenge, which will feature a field that is major championship-like.
There is no guarantee that the PGA Tour's plan for testing players will keep the coronavirus from spreading among touring pros, of course, but golf is the biggest sport to date -- at least in the United States -- to attempt a return with some sort of normalcy. In terms of how "normal" the game appears, well, there will be some adjustments.
Gone are pro-ams, hospitality tents, fans (at least temporarily) and many of the entourages we see following players around at events like this. In their place there will be hand sanitizers on every tee box, a bare-bones staff trying to keep the event running and coronavirus tests for players every step of the way.
Let's take a look at what we should expect in the weeks and months ahead.
What did I miss?
Not much in the way of golf. Every major global tour has been shut down for most or all of the last three months, which means we've been playing a lot of spreadsheet golf and watching old Masters final rounds on YouTube. The two primary events that took place were both charity tournaments to raise money to fight the coronavirus. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson teamed up against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff at Seminole in Florida a few weeks ago (McIlroy and D.J. won), and Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning beat Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady at Medalist Golf Club. Combined, the two events raised over $25 million.
What should I expect as the PGA Tour restarts?
As is true in every sport, golf has never restarted in the middle of a global pandemic. We'll talk more about the specific ways tournaments are treating the logistics of the virus below, but in terms of the golf itself, it shouldn't be that much different than what we've seen over the past few years. Some of the first few tournament fields are going to be ludicrous -- for example, next week's event will have most of the top 20 players in the world -- because the golfers have had so much time off and want to ramp up quickly before the major championships start up in August.
Wait ... the majors start in August?!
It's true. Because of the coronavirus, all four majors were either postponed or canceled. Here's a look at the major schedule for the rest of 2020.
- Aug. 6-9: PGA Championship
- Sept. 17-20: U.S. Open
- Nov. 12-15: Masters
- Canceled: The Open Championship
When is Tiger Woods playing?
Though we saw Woods a few weeks ago in that exhibition with Manning, it's unclear when we will see him again. After a bumpy start to 2020 in terms of his health, he (and his swing) looked phenomenal against Mickelson and Brady. Regardless, he will still likely play a very limited schedule especially with so many major championships upcoming. Expect a couple of tune-up events, though, before major season begins.
Who was hot when golf paused?
You could make the argument that Sungjae Im was the hottest player in the world when golf went on hiatus in March. He won the Honda Classic and nearly won the Arnold Palmer Invitational ahead of the Players Championship. Additionally, Bryson DeChambeau had strung together three consecutive top-five finishes, Rory McIlroy hadn't finished outside the top five in a PGA Tour event since last August and Jon Rahm had first- or second-place finishes in five of his last 10 starts.
Who should I keep an eye on?
Obviously, all of the golfers I mentioned above are threats, but there are a few others I'm curious about for various reasons as we head into this nutty 15-month stretch of golf.
- Brooks Koepka: The four-time major winner struggled to start 2020 and has been dealing with a knee injury since last fall. I want to see if the time off was beneficial to him getting his body fully healthy.
- Rickie Fowler: He's dropped to No. 27 in the world -- his lowest ranking since 2014 -- but looked tremendous in his exhibition match against McIlroy. This could be a perfect spot for him.
- Justin Rose: He missed three cuts in four starts to begin the year, but dropped his club manufacturer during the break from golf. He's won at Colonial before, and I'm curious about what a return to his old sticks will mean for his game.
Tell me more about the next 15 months
Buckle up, friends, because it's going to be a ride. Starting next week through the end of August 2021, we will ostensibly have the following.
- A Ryder Cup
- An Olympics
- Two FedEx Cup Playoffs
- Seven major championships
Some of those could be postponed or canceled -- the Ryder Cup in particular is vulnerable because what is a Ryder Cup without fans? -- but that's how the slate looks as of the beginning of June 2020.
How are the tournaments handling coronavirus?
Early on, things will be tight. PGA Tour players, caddies and essential personnel will be tested with RT-PCR tests at individual events when they arrive. According to the PGA Tour, "the test itself takes less than five minutes to administer, and test results are returned within several hours. Approximately 400 individuals are expected to be tested on-site each week."
Players and caddies are also encouraged to self-test at home before traveling to tournaments, but that will not be a requirement. If a player tests positive during an event, he will be required to withdraw and quarantine. The PGa Tour will charter flights from one event to the next if players want to use that option for transportation.
The circle of folks allowed into tournaments in the short-term will be kept small, though parties that support players and select media will be permitted on a limited basis. Families will not be granted access to the tournament sites. Not everyone on site at the events will be tested, but sanitizing products and personal protective equipment will be provided to all in attendance.
Fans will not be allowed at the first four events (at least) and many future events -- including the U.S. Open in September -- are trying to figure out whether fans can attend at all.
These are the things we know, but there remains a lot we don't know or have yet to find out. Again, no sport -- at least in my lifetime -- has ever tried to rebound from a pandemic in the middle of that pandemic. Golf's return is a thrill, but also an unknown. Regardless, on Thursday morning next week at Colonial, emotion and excitement will be high as the PGA Tour does its best to return to some sort of rhythm for the remainder of 2020.