Looking ahead as TOUR returns to golf

As the PGA TOUR returns to golf at the Charles Schwab Challenge, PGATOUR.COM’s writers got together to discuss a variety of issues, from the biggest challenges of holding tournaments to which players might play best after a long layoff.

Use one word to describe what it will be like to finally see a live PGA TOUR event again. (OK, go ahead and expound if you must!)

BEN EVERILL: Ambivalence.

SEAN MARTIN: Optimistic. Getting people back to work is about more than making money. For many, work is a calling and gives them purpose (as well as a paycheck). Hopefully sports can lead the path back to some sense of normalcy, even in a very new world. Is there a risk? Yes. But there is risk every time you step out your front door. We know more about the virus than we did even a few months ago, and so we know the steps to minimize risk. As social creatures, we can only stand isolation for so long. Many are willing to accept the risks, take steps to minimize them and embrace a new normal. That’s why these first few events boast such strong fields.

MIKE McALLISTER: Comforting. These three months have been tough on all of us, regardless if you’re a hard-core golf fan or a casual one. There’s still an unknown factor about the “new normal,” of course, but having the world’s best golfers back on the course feels like the positive step we desperately need.

JIM McCABE: Fulfilling. Once we comprehended the gravity of this COVID-19 pandemic, many of us joined a large chorus of folks who expressed the sentiment that golf is the one sport that could be played nicely with a commitment to “social distancing.” The mere act of playing golf, even championship golf, was never considered to be an insurmountable hurdle; instead, the logistics and dynamics to safety protocol – most of which is far too overwhelming for us to comprehend – were the bigger issues. It will be gratifying to see our faith in golf reinforced.

CAMERON MORFIT: Curious. There are so many moving parts to get this thing going again, I’m almost in awe of the logistics.

ROB BOLTON: Community.

HELEN ROSS: Interesting. Of course, I’ll be excited. But I think it will be interesting to see who is able to shake off the rust after the three-month layoff. And it will be interesting to see how everyone adapts to the new normal – no fans, testing and social distancing.

What do you consider as the biggest challenge for players in the Return to Golf?

EVERILL: Stamina in regards to high performance. The condensed run to, and then through, the FedExCup Playoffs means players will need to find a consistency of performance throughout with very little room for rest. There is very little margin for error — one bad week might be fine, but a few … well, you’ll be falling fast. 

MARTIN: All the changes. TOUR players are creatures of habit. Their ability to rigidly adhere to intricate routines may be their biggest strength. But now everything has been thrown on its head, from their interactions with coaches and caddies to how they get clubs from the equipment trailers. Even post-round meals will have to change. Being able to adjust to these new regulations will be key to success.

McALLISTER: These guys are obviously well-rested, but like Ben, I’m intrigued by the stamina factor … especially this week in Fort Worth, with soaring temperatures into the mid-90s.

McCABE: Getting used to all the differences to the landscape, small as they may sound. Like Sean said, golfers are notorious creatures of habit, anal in many ways. But routines will be different, travel will be different, hotels will be different, dining choices will be different, exchanges with caddies will be different, playing to empty theaters will be different. Getting comfortable will be a tougher task than normal, but those who settle in quickest will likely fare well.

MORFIT: The biggest challenge for the rank and file might be finding a way to feel safe getting to the tournament site. For the stars, the biggest challenge might be playing with no fans. And I imagine everyone will be rusty.

BOLTON: Travel. Everything pertaining to the competition falls under the category of adaptation, but decisions concerning how to travel, when to travel and with whom to travel given the uncertainty of COVID-19 are reasonable concerns for everyone.

ROSS: I think it will just be getting into a rhythm – on and off the course. Masks and testing and social distancing will be an adjustment but by the weekend, I think it will be business as usual. And that’s a good thing because the condensed schedule doesn’t give much margin for error if a player has FedExCup hopes.

Given that the most recent TOUR event was three months ago, does “recent form” matter in trying to predict which players will start quickly?

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