Six-major PGA 'super season' begins with US Open tuneup
San Francisco (AFP)
A US PGA Tour "super season" with six major tournaments and a Tokyo Olympic showdown tees off Thursday with a US Open tuneup event launching a coronavirus-scrambled 2020-21 campaign.
Four days after Dustin Johnson captured the Tour Championship and his third triumph since a June restart after a COVID-19 shutdown, the PGA launches a new season with the Safeway Open at Napa, California.
Phil Mickelson, fresh off a victory in his 50-and-over tour debut, and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth are among those playing ahead of next week's US Open at Winged Foot, which was postponed from June by the deadly virus pandemic.
With the Masters shuffled from its normal April spot to November and next year's events scheduled to be staged as usual, the planned programme features 50 events, the tour's most since 1975, including Olympic golf next July after the majors conclude with the British Open, which went unplayed this year.
There will be no Asian swing in the 2020-21 campaign, with an event in Shanghai wiped out and tournaments in Japan and South Korea shifted to US venues, serving as October tuneups for the Masters.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan dubbed the 2020-21 campaign "a super season" despite the loss of the Ryder Cup, postponed to next September after the 2021 Tour Championship.
"If you're a golf fan, this is a dream season with more significant events than ever before, including the Olympic Games," Monahan said. "What more can you ask for?"
Golf fans could ask for a chance to purchase tickets and watch an event, but there has been no PGA event yet planned with spectators, with the US Open and Masters saying those events will be played without spectators in 2020.
"We will continue our adaptive work through the fall and into 2021 as we look toward reintroducing pro-ams, corporate partner activations and spectators when we feel it is safe to do so," Monahan said.
The major schedule after next week sees the Masters on November 12-15, and a return to Augusta National on April 8-11, the PGA Championship next May 20-23 at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, the US Open on June 17-20 at Torrey Pines in San Diego and the British Open on July 15-18 at England's Royal St. George's with the Olympic tournament two weeks later.
Profitable pro-am events will return at an event in the Dominican Republic later this month, but virus containment and development of a vaccine will likely play major roles in when spectators can attend US PGA events again.
"We're encouraged by the fact that you're continuing to see more options, which creates more potential for a quicker return of our fans," Monahan said. "When we feel like it's safe to return fans out here, that's when fans will return."
Monahan talked about a window of six to eight weeks for making decisions about spectators so stands can be constructed and that events are making multiple plans looking ahead.
- 'Humbling' virus fight -
After a few weeks of stumbles with positive COVID-19 tests, the PGA settled into a rhythm without positive tests, allowing completion of the virus-hit 2019-20 season and the start of a new campaign.
"It's humbling to think about what has been accomplished with our successful return," Monahan said. "It hasn't been perfect, and we're not claiming victory by any stretch. In fact, we continue to learn and adapt.
"But I'm so proud of the team we put into place in March to help solve this giant jigsaw puzzle. I'm also very thankful for the collaboration with golf's governing bodies, with our reimagined schedule that also includes events into the fall.
"I'm also proud of our player membership for adapting quickly and successfully following the protocols. They've understood and been a big part of the changes we needed to make along the way as we've learned and adapted to this crisis."
© 2020 AFP