Beyond bizarre: Thomas has 'different feel' as PGA Tour returns


Los Angeles (AFP)

Justin Thomas says getting back into the swing of things on the PGA Tour after a three-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic has different feel to it.

It means daily temperature checks, filling out health questionnaires, knowing where the hand-sanitizing stations are and social distancing on the tee boxes.

The Charles Schwab Challenge will be full of firsts as the PGA Tour's restart begins Thursday in Texas with the 148-field teeing off at the Colonial Country Club.

"I would say 2020 is beyond a bizarre year so far, and especially in the world of sports it's just going to be different," said the former world number one Thomas.

"If we all want to get back and play the game that we love we're just going to have to get over the fact that it's going to be different and be a little weird."

World number one Rory McIlroy and second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain lead a strong field that includes 15 of the world's top 20 players.

World number three Brooks Koepka, defending champion Kevin Na, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson are also teeing up at the course in Fort Worth, Texas.

Some of the sport's top players from outside of North America decided to skip the event because travelling to the US would mean a two-week quarantine, including 10th-ranked Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.

The biggest change, since the Tour was shut down in March at the Players Championship, is that organizers are not allowing any spectators this week.

- Floyd respect -

The Tour is also going to leave open the 8:46 am tee time and instead have a one-minute moment of silence to mark the death of George Floyd, who has become a symbol of racial injustice in America.

American Jordan Spieth said it is important for the Tour to show its support for the US black community.

"I think it's really cool. I think it'll be something that hopefully we can kind of stick with however long we need to. But I think it's certainly a really nice thing to do with the way things have been," Spieth said.

One player who will be notably absent is Tiger Woods who has won 15 major championships and is chasing Jack Nicklaus (18) for the most in history. Woods looked sharp in a recent exhibition match with Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Fellow American Thomas says it will be interesting to see how the social distancing works, especially on the tee boxes which can get pretty crowded with players, caddies and officials.

"What'll be weird is when you stand on the tee boxes trying to separate yourself a bit from your competitors.

"Normally when you're on the tee box everyone is crunched up in the same area. It'll be a little bit unusual just trying to actually focus on social distancing on the tee."

Thomas said he got tested for the coronavirus and it came up negative.

"I think the (SARS-CoV-2 virus) swab test was probably the most uncomfortable so far. There was nothing comfortable about it," he said.

"But I've done the testing. I've gotten approved. I have my pass that gets me in the locker room, that gets me in the clubhouse, dining."

Thomas has been staying in shape by working out in his backyard and practising socially-distanced golf with friends. But he expects some rust because of the length of the layoff.

- Feeling 'rusty' -

"It's not just going out and having a money game with your buddies," he said. "Every shot counts. It's cumulative score for four days, and that's the thing that's going to be the hardest because I sometimes feel rusty after two, three weeks off, let alone four months.

"The fact that that four-footer I have on the first hole matters. Yeah, if I hit this ball into a hazard that's a penalty stroke, or a penalty area or whatever. It's real."

The PGA Tour cancelled 11 tournaments during its shutdown, and revised its remaining schedule.

The first five events of the restart, including the Charles Schwab, will be played without spectators.

The first tournament to have fans will be The Memorial, July 16-19 in Dublin, Ohio.

After the Charles Schwab, the PGA Tour will feature the RBC Heritage (June 18-21) in Hilton Head, South Carolina; the Travelers Championship (June 25-28) in Cromwell, Connecticut; and the Rocket Mortgage Classic (July 2-5) in Detroit, Michigan.

The PGA Championship will be played August 6-9 in San Francisco and the US Open is rescheduled for September 17-20 in New York.