PGA Tour to heighten health and safety protocols

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan after a virtual press conference during a practice round for the Travelers Championship in Connecticut (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The PGA Tour said it will implement heightened health and safety protocols and is planning increased enforcement for violations following the incidence of three positive tests and five player withdrawals this week at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, which is set to begin June 25.

The organization said positive tests came back this week for Tour player Cameron Champ, and for caddies of fellow players Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka. Those three golfers have withdrawn from the event, as have Webb Simpson and Chase Kopeka, Brooks’ brother, who despite negative tests themselves were both in contact with others who have tested positive.

Jay Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner, said there have been just seven positive tests in total among 2,757 conducted thus far across the circuit and the developmental Korn Ferry Tour. But those positives, and quickly rising case numbers across much of the United States, are still causing alarm. 

“It’s a low number, and it’s a low number on a percentage basis. But every number hurts,” Monahan said. “As we look at where we are now, I think we all need to remind ourselves that we’re learning to live with this virus, and we all need to learn to live with this virus, as individuals, as family members, and certainly within our businesses. It’s pretty clear that this virus isn’t going anywhere.”

The Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled. But the Tour is implementing several enhanced protocols. Among them: increased testing for players taking Tour-arranged charter flights between events, subjecting instructors to the same testing provisions as players, bringing a fitness trailer on site at events to keep players from visiting local gyms, and removing stipends provisions for players who have tested positive and self-isolating, if they fail to follow additional health and safety protocols.

“All of us have an extraordinary responsibility to follow these protocols,” Monahan said. “For any individual that does not, there will be serious repercussions…Everyone knows and needs to know that our future, our ability to sustain this business and to impact the communities where we play and to create so many jobs is contingent on our ability to follow these protocols. So when we have instances where someone hasn’t, they will be dealt with. And as I said, the consequences will be significant.”

During the Tour’s return to play thus far, several operational measures with regard to social distancing and wiping down flagsticks and rakes have not been universally followed. Some of that, Monahan suggested, may have been due to the fact events thus far are being played without spectators and the close familiarity existing between Tour players and caddies.

“I think over the first couple weeks [of resumed play], we’ve seen some instances where…let’s say we’ve gotten a bit lax or away from protocol,” he said. “Full disclosure: I’ve done it myself, and I think that’s the kind of tightening we need to do in order to make sure we continue to be in a good position to move forward.”

The Tour is additionally providing more than 1,000 Whoop straps for players, caddies, and other personnel on the Tour itself, Korn Ferry Tour, and Champions Tour. Whoop straps collect physiological data, and are typically used to help optimize workouts, recovery, and sleep. But they also surface data such as respiratory rates that can help flag the need for additional Covid-19 testing.

“We are rapidly onboarding everyone in the PGA Tour universe as of yesterday, and respect the measures that they are taking to keep the Tour safe,” tweeted Will Ahmed, Whoop founder and chief executive. 

Charley Hoffman, chairman of the Tour’s Players Advisory Council, said Covid-19 will unfortunately be a part of life for the Tour for the foreseeable future.

“Despite our best efforts and prescribed protocols, occasional positive test results are inevitable,” Hoffman said in a letter this week to players. “The fact that we have had so few speaks to the incredible job we have all done during quarantine and the return to play. 

Hoffman also said, “there is substantial room for improvement, and we cannot let the ‘Bubble’ give us a false sense of security.”