There will be some involved in golf organisation in this country thanking their lucky Southern Cross stars for Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian has, of course, dominated the news cycle for over a week now with his anti-vaccination stance and subsequent entry into Australia for the Australian Open tennis, and is helping the biggest event in Australian golf for two years from its own bad press.
By now, most will know that marquee players from the inaugural WPGA Championship Steph Kyriacou and Sarah Kemp were ruled out before this morning’s opening round due to positive tests for the virus. There have been three from the men’s field also ruled out, and if that is the end of the COVID enforced withdrawals the PGA Tour of Australasia and WPGA Tour of Australasia can count themselves exceptionally lucky.
Of course, in this modern day with the virus running rampant in our major cities the field shrinking is no surprise, however, management to minimise this very issue has been lacking, at least in this scribe’s opinion from on the ground.
To offer an insight into the processes employed, all players, caddies, officials, working media were required to undertake a rapid antigen test on arrival on Monday or Tuesday whatever it may be. But there ends the testing for the virus that had 22,069 positive tests in the last 24 hours.
RIGHT: Steph Kyriacou is the biggest name to contract COVID and be forced out of the Australian PGA & WPGA Championships. PHOTO: RvS.Media/Vincent Galloux/Getty Images.
Kyriacou never made it beyond her test, while Kemp did. And with a negative result before discovering she was a close contact and subsequently testing positive, she was going about her business preparing for her challenge for the Karrie Webb Cup as she was entitled to do.
This included mixing with the other players on the practice fairway, putting green, working with her coach and taking part in a press conference where she was immediately followed by another marquee player on the microphone that was not sanitised or replaced in anyway.
There exists no bubble for the players this week, with all and sundry free to move about the city for dinner and drinks after play to return the next day.
Crowds are also on site, held separate from the players with no more than a gallery rope, and no testing requirement but merely a vaccination certificate needed to enter the grounds at Royal Queensland.
Players are now required to alert tournament officials if they feel unwell, an expectation that with $1 million on the line for the men and $300,000 for the women that they will honestly admit and take away the opportunity to make some potentially career altering money at home.
The positive tests have reached elsewhere on site as well, to people in contact with players and access beyond the crowd areas.
Given their status as attention worthy stars in the 24-player field, Kyriacou and Kemp were given every opportunity to return a negative test before the tournament proper, with the tee time draw even delayed by hours as the wait for news extended.
"Players are now required to alert tournament officials if they feel unwell, an expectation that with $1 million on the line for the men and $300,000 for the women that they will honestly admit and take away the opportunity to make some potentially career altering money at home." - Jimmy Emanuel.
The disorganisation of a contingency one would have thought a group organising its first significant event in more than two years would have prepared for, exemplified by requests to this publication to withhold the news of the positive tests of Kyriacou and Kemp after learning of them on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning respectively. The desperation to keep a lid on the subject failing to reach Sydney, where another media outlet broke the story despite the media management on site at Royal Queensland’s requests.
Speaking with PGA of Australia CEO Gavin Kirkman today, Golf Australia magazine was told that the COVID safe practices have been implemented with the Queensland Government and Chief Health Officer. The decision to push ahead with a reduced capacity and COVID safe Greg Norman Medal indoors on Tuesday night also questioned by players who were then partnered up with attendees at yesterday’s Pro-Am.
Like everyone involved in the game, the hope personally is that this is where the spread ends and golf can be the focus.
However, with players like Min Woo Lee and Maverick Antcliff preparing to head to the Middle East to start their 2022 DP World Tour campaigns as soon as the Joe Kirkwood Cup is presented on Sunday afternoon, things could still get a lot uglier for the local circuits. And while Novak might save them from bad press, disgruntled players during the same week of a very positive announcement regarding the further alignment with the DP World Tour could just be worse.