Members of the PGA Tour have overwhelmingly expressed their eagerness to return to competitive golf after more than two months off. The question is are they ready for the “new normal” of safety protocols and changes in their routines that will be required amid the lingering coronavirus pandemic.
Charley Hoffman, who is the chairman of the tour’s Player Advisory Council, provided a frank and sober outlook for what his peers will encounter when the tour resumes on June 11 in Texas at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club. A four-time winner, Hoffman, 43, said that the protocols in place designed to keep players, caddies and other tournament personnel safe will test patience and alter routines.
He warned that there could be a lot of waiting around, be it for testing for the COVID-19 virus or for conveniences they have been accustomed to during tournament week. Sure, a few more delays in their daily routines is hardly a hardship. But they do require adjustments – to schedules and mindsets.
“As I’ve told a few guys that have asked me, the fact of this thing, it’s the new normal. What we used to do and how easy it used to be and how fluid it was… that’s not going to be it anymore,” Hoffman said during a conference call overnight, Australian time. “We’re going to have to come up with a new way to get to the golf course. We’re not gonna be able to just jump in our courtesy car and be there in eight minutes and be working out in 12 and so on and so forth. And we’re going to have to figure it out.”
The 16-member PAC voted unanimously for a return to competition, and the tour on May 13 released a 37-page memo to players outlining plans for resumption of the schedule after nine events were cancelled. It’s an exhaustive document that covers everything from testing to travel to social distancing guidelines. The tour intends to conduct at least its first four events without fans.
“Yeah, you know what their plans are. [But] they’re not set in stone,” Hoffman said. “We’re not acting like we know all the answers to the pandemic, and as a team with the tour, the player directors and myself, and obviously the board, uh, we came up with this plan and obviously also the leaders in [infectious disease]. It’s very comprehensive. It’s very detailed. I wouldn’t say it’s the be-all, end-all by any means. It’s for us to be safe and be able to put a product on the course and entertain our fans.
“For this plan to work, we’re all gonna have to abide by all the regulations that are out there, the CDC regulations and social distancing regulations. And we’re looking forward to competing and putting the sport back on TV.”
Of course, no protocol is more important than the testing for the virus, and the PGA Tour is projecting a test load of approximately 400 per week for its players. Fields are comprised of at least 144 players. Hoffman said he and his peers are comfortable with the plans being outlined.
“A hundred percent comfortable,” Hoffman responded, “as [both] a player or PAC chairman. And we wouldn’t have gone through with this if we didn’t have the consent from the players. The reality is I wasn’t sure if everybody wanted to go back to play. But when I can say that every single player that we’ve talked to under the circumstances was comfortable about was laid out, that was comforting to myself.
“I’m not saying that we’re bulletproof by any means,” he added. “This is serious, this is real. We have a great plan in place if something does happen. And you know what, we aren’t the demographic that this [virus] is really going after. Not saying we’re immune to it. But you know what? I think everybody’s sort of a little more educated than we were a month ago. I think we’re lucky to be in a sport that we don’t have to be within close distance to any of our competitors. You really don’t have to be within six feet of anybody all day long except for your caddie. That’s one person. Our numbers are very small and very low risk, and I think everybody understands that and feels good about getting back to the competition.”
A resident of San Diego, Hoffman took six weeks off from playing golf, mainly because of restrictions to access by the state of California. So he is definitely ready to get back into the mix and “get those juices going again”. He knows now that he is not alone. And he is confident that whatever little nuisances that he and his fellow competitors encounter along the way to getting back on the course will be quickly accepted as part of the process. And it will be worth it – not just for the players themselves, but for the sport and fans of the game.
“I think once the gun goes off and once a Wednesday comes around and everybody’s gone through that initial process on Monday, Tuesday, most likely, I think it’s going to be quite easy,” he said. “I think once we get in between the ropes, our instincts are gonna kick back in. The competition is going to be amazing, and I think our product’s going to be great. No question.”