It won’t be long now. Live televised sports competition is about to return, and golf is leading the way. While tentative tournament schedules were drawn up months ago, now there’s something concrete and – as a purely personal perk – the first two big events will be conducted almost in my Florida backyard.
A four-player charity skins game put on by equipment manufacturer TaylorMade will kick things off on Sunday. It’ll have three of the game’s top stars – Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler – participating along with a promising up-and-comer, Matt Wolff.
They’ll play at Seminole Golf Club, a famous course in Juno Beach that has never been seen on television. McIlroy and Johnson will take on Fowler and Wolff, both Oklahoma State alums, in a four-hour telecast that will be played without spectators. It’ll raise at least $4 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.
Not only that, but the event — called TaylorMade Driving Relief – will provide the first look at what tournament golf will be like in the “new normal.’’ The players won’t have caddies. They’ll be carrying their own bags, practicing social distancing and adhering to a variety of new policies designed to make golf safe in these trying times.
“We have a big responsibility on ourselves to make sure that we practice all the guidelines that the PGA Tour is going to set in place,’’ said Johnson. “Obviously everyone is going to be watching what we’re doing, so it’s very important for us to do it all correctly.’’
“It’s really cool to be able to bring some live sports back,’’ said Fowler. “Everyone is taking the right measures to make sure it’s done the correct way.’’
Next week the first major tour event since the pandemic concerns kicked in will tee off. The Korean LPGA Championship will have three members of the world’s top 10 — all Korean players — among those competing for a $1.8 million purse. There won’t be any American players or TV coverage for that one, but on May 24 another televised event will put the spotlight back on South Florida.
“The Match: Champions for Charity,’’ another four-player televised event featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, will be played at Medalist Club in Hobe Sound, which is 18 miles from Seminole. This will be more of a fun thing, with legendary quarterbacks rounding out the foursome. Woods will team with Peyton Manning and Mickelson with Tom Brady.
There’s some interesting, off-course sidelight to this one, which also won’t have spectators. Mickelson is in the process of establishing a residence in South Florida and is joining Michael Jordan’s new club, Grove XXIII, which is also in Hobe Sound. Brady, who signed with a new team – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – in football’s off-season, recently became a member at Seminole.
Golf is already in full swing, since the last of the 50 states re-opened their courses for play this week and there have been some smaller events played. One is this week’s Outlaw Tour Scottsdale (Ariz.) Open, and Wheaton’s PGA veteran, Kevin Streelman, was in the field.
Streelman, along with other PGA Tour players, received a 37-page Health and Safety Plan from PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan this week that outlined the procedures that will go into effect when tournament play resumes. The men’s PGA and Korn Ferry Tours will get into the swing of things on June 11, the PGA in Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge and the backup Korn Ferry at Ponte Vedra, FL., for a new event.
“The message from Jay was that we’ve talked to doctors, talked to professionals, talked to politicians. These are the steps we need to take to be safe,’’ Streelman told reporters at the Scottsdale Open. “Now are you guys comfortable playing competitive golf in this arena? The answer was a resounding yes.’’
The last televised golf was played on March 12, at the first round of The Players Championship. The PGA Tour cancelled the remainder of the tournament and a series of cancellations followed. Last year the PGA Tour schedule had 49 events. This year, if all still scheduled are held, the total will be 36. The Korn Ferry had 28 events last season; this year’s it figures to be 17.
Billy Horschel is one PGA Tour player who has made the most of the difficult stretch without tournaments. He hunkered down with his wife and three children in Ponte Vedra.
“We’re just fine,’’ said Horschel. “We’re very fortunate that my wife and kids and our friends are all healthy. We’ve been getting by just like everyone else. Every day is a different day. Every day seems to be Groundhog Day with my kids. We have a lot of the same meltdowns and timeouts – all those things you have with three kids under 5, but it’s been an enjoyable time to spend with them.’’
Horschel, who has five PGA Tour victories and won the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus in 2014, also did some business during the time away from tournaments. He became in investor in beam CBD, a wellness product.
“I’m very happy because it looks like we’ll have some special golf in the future,’’ said Horschel. “I never had any doubts that we’d play again, but it was just when. With sports we provide a sense of relief that allows fans to take their minds off their own worries and struggles. It’ll be nice to see the world get back to a sense of normalcy.’’