PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | With the announcement Friday morning that the Masters Tournament has been postponed indefinitely, the extraordinary impact of the coronavirus has put the world of professional golf in a swirling state of uncertainty.
Approximately 12 hours after the PGA Tour announced it had cancelled the Players Championship and the next three events on the tour schedule, Augusta National Golf Club issued a statement adding the Masters to the list of tournaments that won’t be played as scheduled.
“Unfortunately, the ever-increasing risks associated with the widespread Coronavirus COVID-19 have led us to a decision that undoubtedly will be disappointing to many, although I am confident it is appropriate under these unique circumstances. Considering the latest information and expert analysis, we have decided at this time to postpone the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement.
“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision. We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date. We will continue to work with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of the Governor, the Georgia Department of Public Health, the City of Augusta and all other local authorities. We are grateful to all of these entities for their exceptional efforts and guidance.”
The Augusta National announcement was one more extraordinary twist in a constantly changing landscape that has brought professional sports and more to a sudden, unnerving halt.
The decision by Augusta National to cancel its three upcoming events without setting possible make-up dates didn’t come as a great surprise given the cascading impacts being felt around the world.
“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. You guys have to get your head around it. The Masters doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. When there are people dying left and right, it doesn’t matter. It’s as simple as that,” said Sergio García, the 2017 Masters champion.
The Masters decision came a little more than 24 hours after play had begun at the Players Championship in front of thousands of fans on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. What was hoped to be a typical tournament Thursday – Hideki Matsuyama matched the course record with a 9-under-par 63 – instead became a marker of sorts. It is unclear when the PGA Tour will resume play, though commissioner Jay Monahan said the intention is to resume at the RBC Heritage in mid-April.
The tour sent word to its players via text at 9:50 p.m. Thursday that the Players Championship had been cancelled. Having been given assurances from the White House, the Florida governor’s office, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and various local organizations, Monahan had decided Thursday afternoon to stage the tournament without spectators unless and until circumstances changed. Hours later, the tournament was called off.
Monahan said there was no single reason that led him to make what he called a “gut-wrenching decision” but it became obvious it was the right thing to do. Some players, including several international players, raised questions about how they might get home.
When Monahan learned that the major theme parks in nearby Orlando had announced they would be closing, his mind was made up.
“That was the last thing that we had heard that said, you know what, even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we’ve done all the right things, we can’t proceed and it’s not right to proceed,” Monahan said at a Friday morning press conference.
“When you use doing the right thing as the litmus test, to me that was the final – those two things together were really the things that drove the decision.”
Asked if he had regrets over not cancelling the tournament before it began, Monahan said he felt good about the decision to begin at the time.
“Anytime you make a change to a decision that you originally made, there’s an element of maybe we could have done that earlier,” Monahan said. “We talked about this as a team last night, you go back to what was your decision-making process, how committed were you to it, and what was the criteria that caused you to change. And for me I’m very comfortable that we made the right decision at the right time – or made the right decisions at the right time over the course of the week.”
As the sun rose over the Stadium Course Friday morning, there was an almost eerie silence. Bleachers sat empty. Trucks were being loaded. A handful of players, most of them dressed in workout clothes, ducked into the clubhouse to gather their belongings before heading out without knowing when and where they will play next.
“It’s the right decision,” said Rory McIlroy, who didn’t learn of the Players Championship cancellation until he awoke at 5:30 a.m. Friday.
McIlroy said his mother, Rosie, has respiratory issues and he is worried about potentially contracting the virus and giving it to her. Jon Rahm has similar concerns.
“I think there’s a bigger problem on our hands,” Rahm said. “People are getting affected, people are having problems. Like I’ve said many times, I’m pretty scared because there’s quite a bit of people in my family with asthma, and my 85-year-old grandma (in Spain) being one of them, which is a direct target. And there’s nothing I can do because I can’t go home, I can’t come back.”
After finishing play Thursday, McIlroy said he intends to use a private laboratory to be tested for the virus next week. Asked if the tour would make testing available to players, caddies and others, Monahan said that because of the limited number of available tests, the tour would not provide testing so as not to take away from others who might need the test.
As for when the tour might resume tournament play, Monahan said it will ultimately depend on what the leaders of various health organizations advise.
“As we step back and we think about when we’re going to play, we need to do all the things that led us to this decision,” Monahan said.
“We need to continue to understand what’s happening on the ground in the markets where we would be returning to play, continue to work with our partners in those markets, continue to understand what’s happening with the CDC and the World Health Organization, and then ultimately that will guide our decision. We’re going to make sure that we protect the safety and well-being of all of our constituents as we make that decision.”
The Augusta National clubhouse at dusk during a Masters past. Photo: Augusta National via Getty Images
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