The PGA Tour is back. Is this the new normal?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The PGA Tour returns to play this week at Colonial Country Club with the Charles Schwab Challenge. It features a stellar field including 15 of the World Top 20, a long list of safety protocols due to COVID-19, no fans and even changes to the broadcast format. What’s the most compelling storyline about this week’s event?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Just the fact that they’re making an effort to play and entertain sports fans is a pretty compelling storyline.  In two years, this will all be forgotten, and 2020 will become a trivia question for decades ahead.  (“Okay, for 50 points, what happened in 2020 that forced the postponement of ALL golf tournaments till mid-June?”).  But good on them for trying!

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Most compelling story is that TOUR GOLF is back baby. Lots of eyeballs will be watching as it is one of the few sports in action. Huge opportunity here for the Tour and Players to showcase themselves to a fringe audience and convert them to become more of a core fan. I think they know this; I hope it creates a bigger pie and more engaged fans in golf itself as a result.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I’m not sure there is one. I’d like to hear stories from the players like how they did a 14-day quarantine to enter the USA. What do you mean they didn’t? Does that equate to special treatment?

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I’m curious about how the safety protocols will play out, but I’m most excited for the return of competitive sports. I’m not a UFC or a German soccer guy, so I have been champing at the bit for some action for a while now. Don’t really care who wins. As long as it’s close.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’ll be interesting how much rust some of the players have coming off so long since playing any competitive golf.  I don’t think it will be the best quality golf, but someone will put 4 rounds together.  It’s exciting to see so many of the world’s top players in the event, it makes it feel like a bigger tourney than the Colonial normally is!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Got to be the strength of the field. This ain’t your Daddy’s Colonial. The top 5 with 15 of the top 20. The line I’ll be following is the 1-2-3 threesome of McIlroy, Rahm, and Koepka. Worth the price of admission, if there was admission.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Initially, the great unknown of operating in this COVID-19 environment will be the story, but by the weekend, I expect it to feel pretty much like a regular Tour event. Then the storylines will be written by the players. I’m most curious to see if the players that were hot pre-shutdown are still on top of their game.

During the three-month hiatus from tournament golf, we’ve heard stories about how players were practicing (or not) during the layoff and got an abbreviated look at a few of them during the charity matches. Do you think the Schwab will have a pre-season feel to it as players adjust to all the changes and try to shake the rust off their games or will it be quickly back to normal PGA Tour competitiveness?

Deeks: I think it’ll be quickly back to normal.  All but a very few PGA players live in southern states and are able to work on their games 365 days a year.  Even the few who take the winter off have had several weeks to get back on the range.  It’s not like the rest of us who take five months off, then have to reacquaint ourselves with the concept of hitting a little ball in a straightforward direction.

Loughry: I think we’ll see quickly who was playing/practicing during the COVID break, and who wasn’t.  We’ll see lots of rust I’m sure. Huge opportunity for those who were prepping to rattle off some good finishes or wins early on (and yes, I’m hoping Tiger is one of them).

Schurman: I’d like to see two things happen. First, I’d like to see the players apply the Covid-19 rules like we are supposed to do. Wearing masks when necessary, social distancing, no touching the flagstick. Why do I want to see this? Because I’d finally like to see anyone in an ‘example role’ or position of influence do what they expect me to do. Second, I’d like to see an arm-wrestling contest between the players just to help relieve all the pent-up energy and testosterone.

Kaplan: I don’t think the A-list guys ever get THAT rusty . . . not like us, at least. I expect it to get back to normal PGA Tour competitiveness fairly quickly, if not immediately.

Rule: As I mentioned above, players will certainly have rust and it may seem like a pre-season tourney because of the overall quality of play, but as the PGA Tour slogan goes – “these guys are good” – and someone will put it all together and play 4 great rounds.  It won’t have the feel of a pre-season tourney simply because of all of the big names in the field!

Quinn: Some will have much less rust than others, but these guys are born competitors and will be grinding from day one. A few will be wearing mics, so might be a chance to eavesdrop on player-caddy strategy.

Mumford: Colonial Country Club is a course where bunters have done unusually well, and bombers have often stayed away. Winners from the past 10 years include Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson (twice), Steve Stricker and David Toms. This year, the longest hitters are all there too, and nobody is Tour ready. That could mean it’s wide open and anybody can win. There will be stumbles. If someone runs away with this, I’d be surprised. Rather, I’d look for a six-man playoff on Sunday.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and Harold Varner, one of the few black players on Tour, had a public dialogue about racism, the current unrest in the US and how the Tour can best deliver the right message of concern and support going forward. To many, Monahan’s response seems tepid and late. How do you see it?

Deeks: The PGA Tour has always suffered from a lack of black players, but that’s not necessarily the Tour’s fault. (Same as it’s not the NBA’s fault that there’s a scarcity of white players.)  At least the Tour today (and in particular, the Masters) doesn’t showcase black caddies with white players.  Despite the conservative, personal views of many Tour players, it’s absolutely right and essential for a major sports organization like the Tour to be publicly on record — and in practice — of supporting equal rights for all, and condemning racism in any form.  To answer your specific question, I’d say better late than never.  But I haven’t considered the Tour as being discriminatory for many years.

Loughry: I’m not going to criticize anyone or organization on their timing, I’m more focused on what they intend to do to make LONG lasting change. Words are one thing, action is another. Just comment on what you are doing and what you intend to do to make your environment welcoming to all individuals.

Schurman: It was great to see Monahan try to be a leader, but this problem of racial inequality has taken 400 years to develop into its current state. I admire the protestors but so far nobody has come forward with a list of demands. The reason they haven’t is the list would take volumes to record. Wages, job discrimination, racial profiling, poverty, access to health care/dental care, housing inequality, legal inequality, education……….. Mike Harris tried “Work for Welfare” as a solution that failed. The NPD tried “Affirmative Action” that failed, and others have had their own dreams stifled. When one faction of society looks at another faction and says “that’s how we want to live” the answer is not simply to build everyone a new house wherever they want it and buy them a new car. We are talking about cultural changes, economic changes and changes in deep-seated beliefs. This will require several levels of change from those we can mandate by law, to developing an interest in societal change in the long term. On the other hand, everyone has to have a desire to accept change and a willingness to become different from the way people are now to what we want to become and how we going to get there. Yes, black lives matter but so does every person from every ethnic background. As long as the total plan is to build a wall around the White House and gas the citizens things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Kaplan: It was late. The PGA Tour took a surprisingly long time to chime in considering that its most beloved player—by leaps and bounds—is a black man. I was hoping the Tour would jump at the opportunity to make a positive statement regarding social change given how many times it has been on the wrong side of history in the past, but at least we got something. It’s a start and it at least gets the discussion going.

Rule: I don’t think the Tour has really done much to address the issue, at least not as much as they should.  Varner had a great message on social media and as one of the better black players on tour, his voice matters, so it was good to see him speak up, but the Tour can definitely do more.

Quinn: Well, given the harsh reality in the States and around the world, everyone’s response is tepid and late. Marching and slogans isn’t going to change our reality, but it’s a start, I guess.

Mumford: Jay Monahan is like the captain of a huge ship where the passengers represent all the stakeholders in professional golf – players, volunteers, course owners, fans and sponsors. They largely skew conservative, white and affluent and nobody wants to rock the boat. Monahan’s messaging speaks to his audience. However, the boat is heading into some rough water represented by several hundred years of racism, intolerance and brutality. If the protesters hold together long enough to rattle some sponsors, that could put real pressure on the Tour to change. The MeToo movement took less than a year to cause massive shifts in public sentiment and a backlash against entrenched interests. My feeling is that this one could be faster and more seismic in nature and overtake Monahan before he knows what hit him. There’s no returning to normal after this.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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