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Positive COVID-19 Test is Wake-up Call for PGA Tour

By: | Tue 23 Jun 2020

WE HAVE seen positive tests for Covid-19 in the Premier League. We have seen positive tests in the world of tennis. And it was absolutely inevitable that it would happen on the PGA Tour. Anybody who has watched coverage of the Charles Schwab Challenge and the RBC Heritage cannot have failed to notice that nobody seems to be paying attention to social distancing protocols.

And so Nick Watney became the first PGA Tour golfer to test positive, sending shockwaves through a sport that seemed to believe it was above the rules. Caddies and players continue to interact just as they always have. Players who we were led to believe be staying in strictly-controlled hotels are actually renting properties. Worse than that, it has emerged that they have been socialising together.

We have witnessed players fist bumping at the end of rounds while many continue to spit on fairways and greens, despite being instructed not to do. Dustin Johnson is one of the worst culprits. And when Daniel Berger won the Charles Schwab Challenge he warmly embraced his caddie. Do these young men believe they are above and beyond the rules? Do they believe those rules do not apply to them?

One leading golfer has even admitted deleting repeated texts from the PGA Tour reiterating warnings of the need to follow protocols. Really?

After Webb Simpson won at Harbour Town he admitted that discovering Watney had Covid-19 was a timely reminder of what we are facing. "It definitely got me thinking about kind of everything that I've done this week," he said. "I've tried to be really careful, but I could probably be more careful."

Simpson said he had avoided restaurants around Hilton Head, an area described as "an absolute zoo" by Justin Thomas given the way the local population continue to socialise as if circumstances are normal.

Watney passed a Covid-19 test at the start of last week. Feeling unwell, on the day of the second round he went to the course, requested a second test and was allowed to walk around the practice area while waiting for what proved a positive result.

His caddie, Tony Navarro, revealed that Watney felt so poorly he needed to go to bed after his first round. "He got up about 5 o'clock and said he didn't feel good," Navarro said. "He wears a monitor on his wrist that tracks his heart rate and it was kind of sending him some signs that alarmed him a bit."

It emerged that Watney had had close contact with 11 people during the week. Fortunately, those people were all tested and the results were negative. 

Rory McIlroy, who criticised European players for remaining on this side of the Atlantic, is rather more circumspect now.  "Until this thing's over, we all just have to stay vigilant," McIlroy said. "And keep your distance and wear our masks if we're going out in public and keep washing our hands."

Players and caddies are tested on arrival and thereafter are subjected to temperature checks. There are no rules, just recommendations regarding accommodation and eating arrangements.

And now, Cameron Champ has tested positive for Covid-19, withdrawing from the Travelers Championship. The American was not part of the field at the RBC Heritage and is reportedly asymptomatic. 

“I feel great physically and I was obviously surprised and disappointed to learn of the test result,” said Champ. “It’s important now to take the necessary steps and measures to protect others, including my loved ones."

Just a few hours after Champ's announcement, former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell withdrew from the tournament after his long-time caddie Ken Comboy tested positive for coronavirus. 

The Northern Irishman told Golfweek: "I'm going to take a test on Wednesday morning and then jump on a private plane.

"I'm going to get myself out of here, home to Florida and decide whether I need to quarantine myself from my family.

"We're a close-knit team. We roomed together last week, we spent six hours in a car. He's carrying the virus so in some way I have to be carrying it too."

Meanwhile, when the European Tour resumes on July 22, strict strict regulations will be in place with all participants, officials and media required to stay in designated and, where possible, on site hotels. No one will be allowed to breach the bubble and, unlike in the United States, the media will also have to undergo testing before being admitted.

The PGA Tour hopes to admit 8,000 fans to the Memorial Tournament when it starts on July 16 in Dublin, Ohio - an area where 100 new cases were reported last Sunday.

Given the Covid-19 prevalence at the locations of the first two events and the laissez faire behaviour of some participants, even more positive tests seem inevitable. We all want to see tournament golf back - but not at any cost.

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup

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