Tiger Woods 2019 Masters

Will we see Tiger Woods – or anyone else – on golf's grandest stages in 2020?

I have a bad feeling the 2020 golf season is done and we just don’t know it yet. 

I’m not saying it’s over, I’m saying it could be over. And I’m starting to think that maybe it should be over. Even if the worst is over in New York City, and I’m not sure it is, there’s a whole country out there in various stages of infection. The coronavirus is starting to do The Wave across America. This is serious stuff.

The recent relocation of three major championships didn’t raise my optimism. It feels like wishful thinking but maybe that’s because we’re looking up from the bottom of this coronavirus pit and it’s a long, hard climb to get out. 

Wimbledon, The Olympic Games and golf’s British Open have already canceled. They were set for mid-summer in July and early August. 

Using those major events as a guideline, not to mention the coronavirus projections, it’s difficult to envision how golf (or other sporting events) will start up before then. At least, not with thousands of fans in attendance. Some pro sports may go fan-less to keep the TV money coming, but crowds are not going to gather for sporting events – and shouldn’t – until we have a semi-instant coronavirus test; a major drop in the number of infected people and a silver-bullet treatment solution or a surefire inoculation. 

Can we get all those things ready by August? I don’t know. The PGA Championship moved to the first week of August, bumped back from its original May date, and took the week on the calendar vacated by the Olympics. It’s supposed to be played at San Francisco’s Harding Park. California is a coronavirus hotspot. I’d like the PGA’s chances of playing better if it moved this 2020 edition to next year’s venue, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., where a lower and less-densely packed population might be safer.

The U.S. Open is now on for mid-September at Winged Foot in New York, backed up from June. New York is a hot virus mess. I don’t know about this one. 

If anything can get played this year, it’s the Masters. It rescheduled for Nov. 12-15. In seven months, we may have some coronavirus answers. Let’s hope so. 

What about the PGA Tour? It’s going to try to squeeze in the Wyndham Championship, the tour’s regular-season finale, right after the PGA Championship in August. Then the three-event FedEx Cup series will follow before the U.S. Open in September. 

Assuming no tour events are held before August, and that seems very possible, it doesn’t make sense to hold those FedEx Cup events when the PGA Tour season didn’t quite hit the halfway mark and many top players teed it up fewer than 10 times. 

Right now, Sungjae Im leads the FedEx Cup points list, Justin Thomas leads the money list and Patrick Rodgers leads what I call the Iron Man List. Rodgers played 17 tournaments, more than anyone else. Only a handful of others played as many as 15 times. Thomas and Patrick Reed played eight; Rory McIlroy, six; Jon Rahm, five; Tiger Woods, three.

The best players haven’t had a fair chance to play their way into position for the so-called playoffs, which suddenly seem as out of place as halftime after a football game’s first quarter.

The PGA Tour made the only move it could when it pulled the plug on the Players Championship after the first round. When some big sports dominoes fell, such as the NCAA basketball tournament being canceled, the Tour had no choice. It has been forced into a similar position regarding its entire season due to the pandemic, which is still supposed to get worse before it gets better.

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Will there be pro golf before August? Well, who’s going to buck the trend of conventional wisdom, Internet second-guessing, the Olympics, Wimbledon and the Open Championship and try to play a tournament in June or July?

Which players, administrators, volunteers, fans or media members want to risk getting ill or dying if golf comes back too soon? Who is willing to chance passing the virus on to a loved one when it could have fatal consequences?

Besides political correctness and the new safety police, there’s also the legal liability factor. Lawyers and insurance companies will be all over this.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said it best when he announced the cancellations of some of his tour’s events when he said he’d “regret it for the rest of my life” if his tour played and someone became ill or died. So, the LPGA has teed it up only four times in 2020.

No sponsor wants its name on a golf tournament in which a player or someone else involved catches coronavirus and becomes terribly ill or dies. The bad publicity would be awful. That family’s tragedy would be worse.

Golf isn’t that important in the long run. The smartest play may be to write off this season plus the rest of the calendar year. That includes the PGA Tour’s fall events that kick off the 2020-21 wraparound season, plus the Ryder Cup, scheduled for late September in Wisconsin. It’s disappointing, even depressing, but it’s the safe play.

Push reset, start fresh in January 2021 and hope golf can regain some degree of normalcy, and we can, too.

It’s too early to make the call to cancel 2020 golf, however. Maybe self-quarantining will help slow the pandemic or flatten the curve, as the TV talking heads keep telling us. Maybe not.

The new plan to squeeze in major championships in August, September and November gives us hope. I’m not sure how realistic those plans are. They feel more like what-ifs and fantasy but that’s all we’ve got for now. So hang on.

We’re going to remember 2020 as the year that changed everything. Not just sports, everything. Whether professional golf resumes this year is of no real consequence in the world’s grand scheme of things. To paraphrase Whan: Better safe than sorry.

I won’t be surprised if the pro golf season is over. I hope it’s not. I hope we play majors in the fall. I hope the PGA Tour tees it up in June. Because that would mean we beat the virus, which is what matters most. Would you trade the rest of this golf season for that big W? In a heartbeat.

These are dark days. Be smart, be careful and be patient. Golf will be back … but maybe not this year.

Gary Van Sickle, a University of Wisconsin grad, has covered golf since 1980, including more than 100 majors. He began his career at The Milwaukee Journal and went on to write for Golf World and Sports Illustrated, among others.

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