The Masters and all other upcoming events postponed, so what’s next for golf?
Golf was one of the last sports to pull the plug on operations amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Round one of The Players Championship this week was actually held and not until late Thursday night was the remainder of the tournament cancelled. Following the lead of almost all other sports, however, the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour finally suspended their seasons for at least the next month.
For the PGA Tour, that means the rest of The Players Championship, the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla, the World Golf Championship-Dell Match Play Championship in Austin, Tex., the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, Tex., and the Masters in Augusta, Ga. are off.
That’s right; the Masters—the most famous golf tournament in the world and the first major of every year—has been postponed. That decision was not made in conjunction with the PGA Tour’s announcement to suspend play, as the Augusta National Golf Club governs all issues related to the Masters. It was made mostly by Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.
“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision,” Ridley said in a statement. “We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.”
Is a postponement—as opposed to a cancellation—possible? Other sports are conflicted on this topic, as each one generally faces very different circumstances from other ones. The NCAA cancelled the NCAA Tournament and all other winter and spring championships. On the other hand, the NBA, NHL, and Major League Soccer are hopeful to resume their seasons at some point. Major League Baseball cancelled spring training but obviously has much more time to work with when it comes to the regular season and is operating under the assumption that the 2020 campaign will get off the ground at some point.
Golf is more like tennis, of course, in that different tournaments take place all over the world with dozens and dozens of different participants each week. The ATP and WTA Tours are suspended for at least six weeks. Some events during that time frame have been cancelled, while others hope to be played at a later date.
If any golf tournament would attempt to be saved by moving to a different spot on the calendar instead of being scrapped altogether, is the Masters. But rescheduling—if the course of this virus even allows for such a possibility—would not be easy. Everything until May is off the table, and that month already includes the PGA Championship (May 14-17 in San Francisco, Calif.). June has the U.S. Open and one month later is the British Open. August is the new date of The Tour Championship and this is also both an Olympic year (late July and early August) and a Ryder Cup year (that prestigious team competition is scheduled for September). The Masters could potentially get crammed in there somewhere, but every week from now through the end of the official 2020 PGA Tour season already has some kind of tournament on offer.
Six-time Masters winner and 14-time major champion Jack Nicklaus is not optimistic.
“I can’t see any way they would play it at a later date,” Nicklaus admitted. “It wouldn’t be fair to any other tournament. I think we’re going to miss the Masters this year…. Who knows what [this virus is] going to be a month or six weeks from now? I’m hoping this thing dies down as the warm weather comes on and we can resume. We don’t know. For us to be smart, I think we need to take a step back. We don’t need to panic. We need to do the things we’re supposed to do and not spread it.”
Current PGA Tour member Xander Schauffele, the No. 12 player in the world, is holding out hope.
”Well, ‘postponed’ is a comforting word,” Schauffele said. ”‘Canceled’ is another.”
A halt in golf also be comforting for Tiger Woods. Nobody wants to see a stoppage to any sport become a necessity, but if there ever was one—and now there is—it has come at the right time for Woods. He had already missed the Honda Classic, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and The Players Championship because of a back issue. He was in doubt for the WGC-Dell Match Play and even the Masters, which he won for the fifth time in 2019. Now it is likely that the 44-year-old will be ready to go whenever golf resumes.
When could that be? Obviously that depends entirely on how the virus spreads. The best-case scenario is a resumption of play at the RBC Heritage, scheduled for April 16-19 in Hilton Head, S.C. Given that the NCAA has already cancelled an event as far out as June (the College World Series), the RBC Heritage going on as planned appears unlikely at best. The PGA Championship in May at least seems within the realm of possibility. If not, the Memorial or the U.S. Open in June or the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational or British Open in July could be logical welcome-back tournaments. If the coronavirus wipes out everything through July, it is hard to see the 2020 PGA Tour season resuming in any way shape or form—at least not without a drastic restructuring of the tournament calendar.
As for the LPGA Tour, it has postponed the following events on its upcoming schedule: the Volvik Founders Cup in Phoenix, Ariz., the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif., and the ANA Inspiration (2020’s first major) in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“I feel fairly confident that we could probably play in Phoenix, maybe we could even play Carlsbad, play without fans and keep everybody else out,” commissioner Mike Wahan noted. “But can I live with it if I’m wrong? If I’m wrong, I regret that the rest of my life.
“If this is a decision that’s wrong the other way, we should have played, I feel terrible about it but I can live with that. This is a decision that I may not like, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll regret.”
Like all sports other than the UFC, golf is erring on the side of caution. As such, get ready for potentially a long, long time before we see a walk down Magnolia Lane or down any other entranceway to any other club.