HARTFORD, Conn. – The PGA Tour resumes Thursday June 11 after a 12-week hiatus, and the shine from the numerous stars in the field should be blinding at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
The COVID-19 pandemic halted golf and countless other activities on and off the playing fields three months ago, with the PGA Tour coming to a halt on March 13 after the first round of The Players Championship, which became one of eight tournaments canceled in the first wholesale shutdown of events since World War II.
Now, the $7.5 million Charles Schwab Challenge will be the first of five tournaments that will be TV-only events, including the Travelers Championship on June 25-28 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. The first tournament to have a limited number of fans, reportedly 8,000 each day, is the second of two events at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, on July 16-19. The new tournament, sponsored by the software company Workday, replaced the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., which was canceled because of lingering problems from the coronavirus.
Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott loosened restrictions to allow 50 percent capacity at outdoor events such as the Charles Schwab Challenge, but the PGA Tour will maintain its ban on fans for five weeks. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who grew up in Massachusetts and is a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, told Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson that no spectators will be allowed until the Workday event.
“We want to have a sustained return,” Monahan said. “If you think about a run to go through the FedExCup, we want to make sure week to week we’re not taking on unnecessary risk.”
The Charles Schwab Challenge has its best field with the top five players and eight of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings, led by No. 1 Rory McIlroy, the 2019 PGA Tour Player of the Year and FedExCup champion who will play in the Travelers Championship. McIlroy will make his Charles Schwab Challenge debut and play the first two rounds with No. 2 Jon Rahm, who tied for second at Colonial CC in 2017, and No. 3 Brooks Koepka, who shot 63 in the second and fourth rounds in 2018 when he finished second. Koepka, winner of four major championships and a former No. 1, will be coming to Cromwell.
No. 4 Justin Thomas, who won THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES and Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this season, will be paired for 36 holes with close friends Rickie Fowler, ranked 27th, and 2017 Travelers Championship winner Jordan Spieth, a native of Dallas who has one win (2016) and two seconds (2015 and 2017) at Colonial CC. Thomas, who is second in the FedExCup standings, has committed to the Travelers Championship, and Spieth, who has slipped to 56th in the rankings after two lean seasons, could be a late entry.
No. 5 Dustin Johnson, a 20-time PGA Tour winner who is 111th in the FedExCup standings after missing much of the season with injuries, will be paired with No. 14 Justin Rose, who became the first player to win the Charles Schwab Challenge and the FedExCup in the same season in 2018, and No. 13 Bryson DeChambeau, who finished in the top five in his last three starts, including second in the World Golf Championship-Mexico Championship. Rose and DeChambeau have committed to the Travelers Championship.
Defending champion and 30th ranked Kevin Na, who earned his fourth PGA Tour title in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in his hometown of Las Vegas in October, will play in the fourth featured grouping with U.S. Open champion and 18th-ranked Gary Woodland and Phil Mickelson, who won the Charles Schwab Challenge in 2000 and 2008 and is the only back-to-back titlist in the Travelers Championship (2001 and 2002).
Other notables scheduled to be at Hogan’s Alley are No. T7 Patrick Cantlay, No. T7 Patrick Reed, No. 9 Webb Simpson, No. 12 Xander Schauffele, No. 15 and 2012 Travelers Championship winner Marc Leishman, No. 16 Tony Finau, No. 17 Matt Kucher, No. 19 Louis Oosthuzen, British Open champion and 20th-ranked Shane Lowry, No. 23 Sungjae Im, No. 25 Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Jason Day, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im, Kevin Kisner, Daniel Berger, who lost on the first playoff hole in the 2017 Travelers Championship when Spieth made a 61-foot bunker shot, and Fairfield native J.J. Henry, who became the only Connecticut native to win the Travelers Championship in 2006 and now lives in Fort Worth. Im is No. 1 in the FedExCup standings.
Reigning Masters champion and 11th-ranked Tiger Woods, tied with Sam Snead for most career wins with 82, isn’t returning this week after missing several starts early in the year because of continued back issues. Some have said this is one week when Woods’ presence at Colonial CC for the first time since 1997 isn’t really necessary as far as public interest because of the lengthy absence of play and the stellar field. Others feel Tiger’s participation would add an even greater level of significance to the PGA Tour’s resumption, but he doesn’t owe anything to anyone after all that he has already done to raise the profile of the game and assure its prosperity.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PGA Tour will have extensive testing, including thermal readings and nasal-swab or saliva exams as well as pre-travel screening. Players and caddies will also be tested on arrival, likely at the host hotel, with daily questionnaires and temperature tests to follow. The plan is for one COVID-19 test of players per week, plus daily monitoring. A player who tests positive would have to withdraw and quarantine. Approximately 400 swab or saliva exams will be needed each week.
Because of privacy laws, a positive test will not be disclosed, so it will be up to the player to say why he had to withdraw. PGA Tour officials then would take steps to mitigate and determine who the player was in contact with before the positive test. An event will not be canceled over one positive test.
The PGA Tour is also offering a charter flight between events, with players and caddies getting first priority. It is charging players $600 per seat, with caddies and Korn Ferry Tour players paying $300. All will have to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departure.
Depending on location, there will be one or more central hotels for players and caddies where testing most likely will occur and the PGA Tour expects them to be for most of the time they are not at the course. Though it will be difficult, caddies will be expected to maintain six feet between players, and the hope is players will take and return clubs to the bag themselves. There will be sanitation material for players and caddies on each hole to wipe down clubs, flagsticks and rakes.
Players’ families, managers and agents will not be allowed at the tournament venue, and there will be limited media access to the grounds. While fans won’t be allowed at the first five tournaments, there will be spectator ropes. Scoreboards, walking scorers and ShotLink personnel to record various measurements for drives, approach shots and putts that go into the PGA Tour’s statistical package also will be present.