How the PGA Tour can learn and move on from positive COVID-19 test
Last Updated: 23/06/20 7:15am
Let’s hope the PGA Tour circus is on safe ground at the Travelers in Connecticut because last week, in South Carolina, it pitched its tent in the wrong place.
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Hilton Head Island was a holiday hotspot from coronavirus hell with restaurants and bars packed out the door and little evidence of any controls. No wonder Justin Thomas described it as "an absolute zoo".
Tour players are supposed to be isolated from all the madness, but in the second week back, PGA Tour bosses discovered they can sanitise all they want but they can't shrink-wrap a golf tournament.
They also found out that all the 'protocols' in the world couldn't stop unforced errors from their own people inside the Tour bubble, and, to make matters worse, they were caught out trying to draw a veil over their mistakes. All in all, last Friday at Harbour Town was a day when Nick Watney was unlucky and the PGA Tour got very lucky indeed.
To have waited for Watney to arrive with COVID-19 symptoms, test him, and then let him wander around the tournament grounds chatting to fellow competitors while awaiting the eventual positive result conjured up memories of all the missteps at Sawgrass three months ago.
This time, the tournament survived and it would seem that Watney is the only victim, but some hard questions will have to be asked and answered about where the player may have been infected between his negative test on Monday and the positive on Friday.
The Tour has tried to persuade everyone connected to the tournament to stay inside the bubble but that's all it can do. If a player steps outside of that to shop or grab a bite to eat in a place like Hilton Head Island, the rest of the tournament is under threat.
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That the RBC Heritage survived this comedy of errors is a welcome break, but there were lingering concerns about the way Watney's case was handled and the timing of informing his contacts.
Also, in the weekend that followed, to see some tournament officials failing to adhere to guidance on contact and distancing and to watch players - you know, the usual suspects - spitting freely all over the course was worrying.
We can only hope the PGA Tour presses the reset button this week and gets everyone refocused on "the world is watching" slogan. Whatever happens in the coming weeks in the States, the European Tour could be the beneficiary ahead of its restart next month.
Officials on this side of the Atlantic will have been watching closely and will have seen that the PGA Tour's traditional attraction of having no borders is, for the moment, undermined by State-to-State differences on COVID-19.
The European Tour restarts with two weeks in ultra-cautious Austria before embarking on its extended UK swing, where coronavirus restrictions should at least be reasonably consistent.
It will be interesting to see if events in America influence any changes in the coming weeks to European testing procedures and other elements of trying to contain the risk to players and officials.
In the meantime, what happens in Connecticut this week remains to be seen but after the holiday hotspot madness of Hilton Head Island, things should be quieter in the areas around River Highlands.
Connecticut moved into phase two of reopening last week so hotels, indoor dining, and gyms joined the hair salons, barber shops and casinos already open from the start of the month. Whether any members of the PGA Tour circus feel the need to take advantage of these outside-the-bubble facilities, however, remains a moot point.