Players at the Charles Schwab Challenge who participated in virtual press conferences on Tuesday said they accept and support the conditions imposed for the first PGA Tour event since the abbreviated Players Championship in mid-March, protocols that involve both testing for coronavirus and restrictions on the golf course. Still, the “new normal” is likely to take some getting used.
After arriving in Fort Worth in Texas, all 148 players in the field (and their caddies) had to undergo a nasal swab test. Players, caddies and others then received a temperature scan of their foreheads and answered a series of questions about COVID-19 symptoms in order to gain entry to Colonial Country Club – a routine that will be repeated daily throughout the entirety of the tournament.
Once on the grounds, tour officials have encouraged everyone to keep space between themselves and others, creating some unusual breaks from the routine found at most tour events.
“You’re getting your own range balls,” said Jordan Spieth [above], the 2016 champion at Colonial. “You’re scooping your bucket.”
The PGA Tour enacted these sweeping regulations and recommendations in order to ensure the safety of everyone involve in staging a return after its longest break – March 12 to June 9 – since World War II. As one of the first professional sports to resume play, golf has an opportunity to set an example about how sports can return to some form of responsible competition and entertainment.
To do that, however, the participants must take ownership, Speith said.
“A hundred percent. I totally think we all as players have responsibility for it to go off very smoothly,” he said.
The tour has limited the number of people who can be on the grounds, allowing no spectators or family members of the players to be in attendance. There is none of the usual infrastructure you find at a tour event, no grandstands or hospitality areas or fitness trailers. What there are plenty of, however, are hand-sanitiser stations throughout the course.
Jon Rahm, the No.2-ranked player in the world, flew a private charter from Arizona to Texas. He said the aircraft had to turn around shortly into its flight to retrieve luggage left at the airport. Rahm arrived too late to take his viral test on Monday, so he had it done Tuesday morning.
“Hurt more than I thought it would, honestly,” he said. Within an hour, Rahm received his negative result.
Afterwards, he reported to Colonial for his forehead scan and health screening. Then he was on the course, hitting balls for the first time in seven weeks. He avoided handshakes and close encounters with fellow players, most of whom he hadn’t seen since the Players.
“At the end of the day we all try to act like it’s just you and your caddie on the golf course and that’s it,” Rahm said.
Other players found different ways to adapt. Justin Thomas is sharing a rental house with Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner. The trio plan to do this for the first few events on the new schedule instead of staying in a hotel. They’ve even hired a chef for three weeks to help them with their meals.
Thomas said he remained confident that he could protect himself “if we just kind of keep our circle small and stay in that circle” for the duration of the tournament.
For some, everything comes down to common sense and a respect for any and all risks.
“That’s the main thing, just paying attention to what I’m doing when I go leave the house as far as the grocery store, when I go practice,” said Ryan Palmer, a member at Colonial who has four top-10 finishes in 16 starts at the tournament.
Palmer said he’s simply “staying smart and making sure I’m safe so I’m able to get here this week and still play”.
With relief, Palmer’s test Tuesday morning returned a negative result, letting him focus for the first time in a while on playing in a golf tournament.