Golf’s bold coronavirus return plan could lead to unforgettable stretch

It wasn’t that long ago when there wasn’t much interest in watching professional golf in the fall. The PGA Championship, traditionally held in August, was the least-followed of golf’s four major championships and except for an occasional Ryder Cup once the leaves turned brown, golf bordered on irrelevant.

First played in 2007, the FedEx Cup was created to extend the golf season into the football season, but it was never a fair fight with the NFL and college football dominating the sports television ratings. It could be different this year if the world goes back to normal as everyone hopes and Monday’s announced rescheduling of golf’s major championships actually comes to fruition.

Pray that’s the case and, come August, golf will have its own “Fall Classic” that should hold its own in a normally football-dominated part of the year. Somehow you can see the late Arnold Palmer rolling up his sleeves and shouting “Go get ’em boys.”

Truth is, if you like golf and football, with maybe a delayed World Series in there somewhere, it could be an unbelievable fall for sports after what will have been a devastating spring and summer. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced golf governing’s bodies to cancel The Open Championship and reschedule the three golf majors played in the United States.

There is no choice other than to go head-to-head with football. The PGA Championship, which has been moved to Aug. 3-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, will get a bit of a head start on football. The U.S. Open, originally set for June 18-21 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, has been pushed back to Sept. 17-20, and the Masters, which was to be played this week, will now be Nov. 12-15.

Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka poses after winning the 2019 PGA Championship.AP

Add the Ryder Cup, still slated for Sept. 22-27 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., and if all goes to plan, it presents an unprecedented stretch of high-stakes golf that could be talked about for decades.

The Masters will serve as the anchor. Once health and safety officials report conditions are favorable to host the event, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said the Masters intends to “invite those professionals and amateurs who have qualified for our original April date and welcome all existing ticket holders to enjoy the excitement of Masters week.”

Instead of azaleas there will be more acorns at Augusta National, but think about how special and unique that week is going to be. Tiger Woods will be the defending Masters champion for the fifth time with Rory McIlroy chasing the Grand Slam and everyone else chasing a green jacket. It promises world-wide interest whether the golfers are wearing short sleeves or wool caps.

Normally, golf would get lost in a schedule filled with football. It never wanted to venture there. But these are unprecedented times that have caused major sports organizations and networks to take unprecedented measures in hopes of conducting their events. The health and safety of all involved must be paramount and no one seems to have lost sight of that.

“We are hopeful that postponing the [U.S. Open] will offer us the opportunity to mitigate health and safety issues while still providing us with the best opportunity to conduct the U.S. Open this year,” Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA, said in a statement.

It’s not all good news. The Open Championship set for July 16-19 in Kent, England, has been canceled because of the coronavirus. It’s the first time the British Open has been canceled since World War II. Meanwhile, the USGA canceled the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Open for 2020. Let’s hope the three other men’s major championships can be salvaged.

A major championship is always a highlight of the golf season. But they will have even more meaning if played this year. Watching a tournament live or on television will feel just a bit different whenever that happens again. Father Time is supposed to be the only enemy in sports. Now we know the cliche ‘Nothing should be taken from granted’ isn’t just a cliche.

Football and golf in the fall would be just fine.

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