What do you do if you’re a professional golfer and there is no place to play tournament golf for at least the next two months?
Mackenzie Hughes, runner-up at the Honda Classic, the second-to-last tournament completed on the PGA Tour earlier this month, discovered he could do some basic masonry work.
Harold Varner III bought a range picker for the new practice facility he built in his parents’ backyard.
Scott McCarron, player of the year on the PGA Tour Champions last season, and his wife have been planning a virtual cocktail party with friends in faraway places.
Webb Simpson has organized a small tournament among mini-tour and Korn Ferry Tour players who live in the Charlotte, N.C., area.
And Paul Casey has been riding his bike, playing soccer with his son in the backyard and, more than a week after returning home from the Players Championship, had not unzipped the travel bag that carries his clubs.
Like the rest of us, professional golfers are living in a different world these days as a result of the coronavirus.
Their profession, their careers are built on schedules and rhythms, both on and off the golf course, patterns and preferences they have found that work for them in a singular game.
All of that is suspended now. Golf courses remain open for the most part but there are no tournaments to play, no firm date for when the business of professional golf will resume.
“You’re stuck in the middle. Usually I think I need to be ready by this particular date to play. I find it a weird dynamic,” Varner said.
Some players – Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods among them – have made substantial donations through their foundations, Koepka giving $100,000 to the Covid-19 relief fund in two South Florida counties and Woods’ group working to provide lunches to children forced to stay home from school. Billy Horschel donated half of his Players Championship paycheck to charity in northeast Florida.
Down time and off weeks are baked into virtually every player’s schedule – even Sungjae Im takes the occasional week off – but even the most optimistic outlook suggests the PGA Tour will lose at least 20 percent of its season, and likely more, due to the virus.
The calendar hasn’t turned to April and the best-case scenario for the PGA Tour is to restart May 21 at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial. No one is convinced it will happen that soon.
“I’m a big fan of time off. There have been times to take three or four weeks off from hitting balls but there’s always been a prospect of going back to work. I’m pacing myself.” – Paul Casey
In the meantime, life goes on.
“I’m a big fan of time off,” Casey said. “There have been times to take three or four weeks off from hitting balls but there’s always been a prospect of going back to work. I’m pacing myself.”
Casey’s immediate concern was making sure his parents, who are in their 70s, could get safely home to England from a holiday trip to South Africa. They arrived with no problems but separated by an ocean and an air of uncertainty, Casey spent the early part of his break monitoring their whereabouts.
McCarron, like so many others, has found himself absorbed in television and internet coverage of the virus outbreak and has forced himself to step away at times. He’s continued to play golf with friends, though there are no bunker rakes, the cups are raised and there are other accommodations related to the pandemic.
He’s started watching the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and likes an idea that’s been floating around of getting some tour players together for a virtual competition on simulators that several of them have in their homes. It would be similar to what Fox Sports did with a virtual NASCAR race last Sunday.
“There could be a closest-to-the-pin contest or some kind of team competition or maybe just pair a pro with an average Joe,” McCarron said.
When the Players Championship was cancelled after one round and the next three PGA Tour events were also cancelled, Hughes wanted to maintain his competitive edge. When another month was wiped off the schedule, Hughes took golf off the front burner.
“No one knows what’s going to happen, but it feels like the end of the year will be very busy,” Hughes said. “I will probably pick things up in a week or two. Maybe we’re off longer. That’s the hard part, just not knowing.”
So, what’s Hughes been doing to stay busy?
“I’ve done a few house projects. I’m not a handy person but I’ve learned a few different things,” he said.
“We had a stone fire pit on the patio in our backyard that was put in by previous homeowners. The wall was falling apart so I did some fill-in work with some concrete. My father-in-law helped but I was able to do a good bit of it. I was kind of proud of that.”
Varner has immersed himself in projects. With two friends, he installed a septic tank last week, he’s been mowing grass and he washed every piece of equipment he has for the practice facility he’s been building for the past few months. It is scheduled to be sodded later this week. Meanwhile, he put pins in the target greens on the range and dug footers for the shed that will allow him to hit balls in bad weather.
He wants to get back to playing but doesn’t want to rush anything.
“Just take the time and figure this out,” Varner said.
Simpson feels likewise. He was in the midst of one of the best streaks of his career when the PGA Tour screeched to a halt. On the plane ride home from the Players Championship, Simpson and his wife, Dowd, talked about what he could do to stay sharp during the extended break.
That’s where the idea of mini-events with local pros came from but finding courses that allow multiple guests is difficult. Simpson hasn’t abandoned the idea but he’s unsure how often it will happen.
While being a dad to his five children, Simpson will continue to work out and practice.
“I want to feel like if the commissioner called and said we’re going back in one week, that I could be ready,” Simpson said.
He doesn’t expect that message any time soon, though.
Harold Varner III has been spending some of his down time building a practice facility in his parents’ back yard. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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