PGA Tour Stars Ignored Main ‘Health & Safety’ Social Distancing Guidelines At Ft. Worth.

PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan admits the Tour has ‘more work to do’ health and safety-wise following a return to competition last week in Texas.

The staging of the Charles Schwab Challenge ended a three-month Tour lockdown and with American Daniel Berger emerging victorious at the first extra play-off hole on the Colonial course in Ft. Worth.

Berger was competing under a Tour ‘medical exemption’ following a longer lay-off due to a nagging wrist injury and with the 27-year old ending a three-year and three-day winless drought to collect a third Tour victory.

The event was the first of four without spectators and while it was one of the strongest fields ever to take to the famed Ben Hogan home lay-out, it clearly lacked crowd buzz.

It was not till late on day four and when the leading players got to the par-4 15th hole there was any noise and that came from a portable grandstand set-up in the front of a house on the aptly-named Mockingbird Lane that runs adjacent to the hole along the southside border of the course.

Though any thoughts among those clearly beer-charged fans of social distancing in the Lone Star State was out the windows.

A sign at the 17th tee reminds players to practice social distancing during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Thursday, June 11, 2020. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

And there were glaring similar examples during the four-day TV coverage over the boundary fence and inside the ropes of this long-awaited return to competition.

The Tour had issued a 37-page ‘Health & Safety’ guidelines booklet to every single player on all Tour’s coming under the PGA Tour’s umbrella.

Those competing in the event were kept in a virtual bubble in terms of travelling via charter jet to Fort Worth and with the greater majority of players and caddies staying in the official tournament hotels.

There were no individual courtesy cars, no players longue, no wife/partners allowed, no families, no managers and no direct interaction with the small number of attending media.

Upon arrival at the course there were daily temperature checks while all about the Colonial layout and practice range was hand sanitising stations.

The world’s best players were back playing the game they love and also, and as the PGA Tour would wish, seeking to set an example for all those amateurs watching around the world.

But while amateur golf fans in the UK and Ireland have been extremely conscious of practicing social distancing and avoiding any form of bodily or flagstick contact since a return to golf late last month, not so at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

There were very clear breaches of the first two points under the ‘General Etiquette and Behaviour Expectations’ as outlined in the Tour’s ‘Heathy and Safety’ guidelines.

The first point was: ‘Always adhere to recommended social distancing guidelines’ while the second point was: ‘No shaking hands and contact of any kind (fist bumps/high fives)’.

We saw many caddies handling the flagsticks with bare hands while others used a bag towel.

There was Branden Grace holing a birdie putt at his penultimate hole on day three and then the sight of the 32-year old South African and his caddy fist bumping in delight.

If there was one major ‘social distancing’ indiscretion for the world to see it was on day four when Chilean Joaquin Niemann brilliantly holed a 142-yard second shot, and also at the 17th, for an eagle ‘2’.

Though for a few seconds, and without any spectators allowed to attend the event, there was uncertainty that the 21-year old had holed out but then when he got the thumbs-up Niemann turned to caddy and with both ‘high-fiving’ in delight.

The shot was shown live in the CBS ‘featured groups’ coverage prior to the main final round ‘last groups’ coverage.

However, when the video clip of Niemann’s shot was posted on the PGA Tour’s twitter page the ‘high five’ between Niemann and his caddy had been conveniently edited out.

All we saw was Niemann ‘pretending’ to high five when in actual fact he had realised the error of his ways and that is what’s shown on the Tour’s video clip.

Of course, old habits will die hard but those who help formulate the Tour’s ‘Health and Safety’ guidelines must have been cringing with dismay.

In fairness, there were no ‘high fives’, no back-slapping and no fist pumps from his playing partners or caddies when South Korean Sung Kang aced the par-3 13th on the opening day.

Monahan could be rightfully proud in looking to set an example for all major U.S. sports but he admits there’s still much to do in educating all those inside the ropes.

He said:  “There is more work to be done, but this is a phenomenal start to our return.

“There’s no question about it. It’s gone about as well as we could have hoped for. I’m proud of our team for that.”

Berger, who had rented a house within walking distance of the course and had his uncle with him to cook meals for the duo, was asked his thoughts whether the social distancing rules had worked.

He said:  “I thought about the virus very few times this week given it’s been such a big part of our lives for the last two months, and I feel like I just tried to do everything I can to be safe, and that’s all you really can do.

“You wash your hands, you don’t touch your face, you wear a mask when you can, you social distance, and obviously we got tested early in the week, so I knew I was healthy before I got here.

“We had the temperature readings before we got on-site every single day. I knew that all of the employees and staff that were here were doing the same thing.

“I felt completely safe. I felt very comfortable, and I thought they did a great job in implementing their plan.”

And with the NBA and NHL also working towards resuming their seasons and the Major Baseball League yet to start its already delayed season, Monahan indicated he will be happy to share information about the Tour’s health and safety measures.

He said:  “We’ll share everything that we’ve learned and how we’re applying our protocols, and I would imagine some of those calls will happen over the next few days.”

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