Positive coronavirus tests by PGA Tour players was arguably inevitable no matter how diligent the majority might be.
As has been proven time and again, COVID-19 has the ability to rear its head, even in countries with now extremely low case numbers like Australia and New Zealand.
And when you factor in a supposed air-tight bubble to protect the PGA Tour in its return, that now appears so poorly constructed it may as well be made of dishwashing liquid, the virus was always likely to spread.
So far, there are two positive test results recorded from players, with Nick Watney withdrawing from the RBC Heritage last week after a positive test during the tournament and Cameron Champ today pulling out of the Travelers Championship after testing positive on arrival.
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell has also withdrawn from the Travelers after his caddie Ken Comboy tested positive.
McDowell has returned to Florida having undergone testing himself after spending all last week with Comboy, including in a car driving to and from the event in South Carolina from his home base as reported by Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch.
The story of the unfortunate first positive Watney – just ask Sergio Garcia – being permitted to wander the practise areas at Harbour Town while his test was analysed is now well known by most, with the American chatting to Rory McIlroy on the putting green and on the driving range in the vicinity of Brooks Koepka.
Although a clearly bizarre thing to allow, the PGA Tour reported no subsequent positives directly attributed to Watney’s case, whereas according to Lynch, McDowell (who once again is yet to test positive) played a practise round with Koepka and his brother Chase as well as reigning Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry without Comboy on the bag at the Travelers on Tuesday before withdrawing.
While neither player deliberately acted in an irresponsible manner, the positive tests show why the PGA Tour returning as the first major American sport to do so after its enforced hiatus was such a risky move. When combined with reports of how the ‘bubble’ has so far been observed, the question of more positive tests seems a case not of if but when.
Early reports from week one in Texas suggested that the preferred accommodation options put forward by the PGA Tour were taken up by some but certainly not all. And that the directive to avoid bars and restaurants hasn’t hit home with some of the Tour.
The latter was confirmed by 2019 Australian Open winner Matt Jones in a teleconference this morning.
“If we're smart and we do the right things like we've been directed to do and we're not out at a bar drinking like a couple of players or caddies have done, I think we'll all be pretty good if we just listen to what the guidelines that they've given us are and just be smart about everything,” Jones said of the protocols in place.
A couple of players and caddies as Jones mentions doesn’t sound significant, but once taking in Justin Thomas’ appraisal of the Hilton Head area that hosted last week’s RBC Heritage it becomes a more concerning number particularly considering the US as a whole has yet to get a hold on the virus.
PGA TOUR statement on Cameron Champ WD: pic.twitter.com/ZeT0EAWhT0— PGA TOUR Communications (@PGATOURComms) June 23, 2020
“I mean, no offense to Hilton Head, but they're seeming to not take it very seriously. It's an absolute zoo around here. There's people everywhere. The beaches are absolutely packed. Every restaurant, from what I've seen when I've been driving by, is absolutely crowded,” Thomas said on Saturday.
As the PGA Tour works to tighten its protocols to deal with playing top level sport in the age of COVID-19, while trying to control the movements of Tour players – who are of course independent contractors and might be as hard a task as herding cats – the virus has made headlines in other sports.
Locally the AFL had concerns when a positive test came from Essendon, while Novak Djokovic has tested positive alongside a number of other players competing in an exhibition series in Europe that has been largely criticised for allowing contact between players that is also occurring on golf’s biggest stage.
As the case numbers increase on the PGA Tour, the question becomes where the line is drawn if things continue in the same vein.
Is there a number of players and caddies who have to test positive before the Tour shuts down?
Or, given the Tour as an entertainment concept is largely driven by stars, is there a number on the world rankings where the decision to again suspend play is taken?
"It is hard to imagine Tiger Woods and Adam Scott will be rushing back to the Tour as they observe from the outside and like the rest of us watch the PGA Tour’s next move with great interest."
Does it take a top-10 player before the Tour believes the bad optics of very few masks, players fist bumping and standing well inside social distancing protocols during their tournament rounds is exceeded and the need to shutdown becomes a reality?
Of course, as many are keen to point out, the PGA Tour brethren are largely younger and healthy, for who the virus poses a fair lesser threat to should they contract it.
However, many of the caddies are not in the same age bracket. And almost none of the weekly volunteers, who reportedly in recent weeks haven’t been tested, fit this mould.
And while the PGA Tour’s return has certainly been a welcome one, not least to those of us who rely on it to make a living, it feels as though more positive tests are inevitable. And the potential for golf’s image as a safe and healthy activity during this period for recreational golfers could be tarnished.
One thing is for sure, it is hard to imagine Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, who are two of the more noticeable absentees from the opening three weeks, will be rushing back to the Tour as they observe from the outside and like the rest of us watch the PGA Tour’s next move with great interest.
Let’s hope it is the right one, because after all, there is a lot more than FedExCup points and trophies at stake this season.