Schedules are sacrosanct in golf. Each season rotates around the immovable cornerstones of the calendar — springtime in Augusta, summer amid wintry weather on a British links — and each week is identified not by its dates but by its PGA Tour stop. Valspar last, Match Play this, Valero next. There are schedules within schedules, the roll call of tee times that lines up the action and the broadcast listings that bring it all home.
The abandonment of the Players Championship began (at least) 11 desolate weeks without Tour play, severed our tethers to the schedule, and left both fans and players adrift.
Rory McIlroy should have gone to Augusta National as the preemptive favorite to win the Masters and the career grand slam, a World No. 1 enjoying some of the finest form of his career. Instead, in a random phone conversation a few days after departing TPC Sawgrass, he wondered aloud if his next start might not be until the RBC Canadian Open in mid-June. That would be three months after he last swung a club in competition. Who is to say where McIlroy’s game will be when he next drives down Magnolia Lane? There are no guarantees in professional sport, and a dream deferred can so easily become a dream denied.
Golf keeps many of us anchored and its absence leaves some unmoored. Boredom is corrosive to elite athletes, and in the immediate aftermath of the season being suspended it became apparent the extent to which the game occupies the hours and minds of those who play for a living. Billy Horschel was on Instagram hitting balls over his house and into the pool. Byeong Hun An decided to start a YouTube channel. Jon Rahm was asking Twitter for grilling tips because his new wife is tired of his peanut butter toast. Padraig Harrington was posting videos from his Dublin home that offered a glimpse into the always fevered mind of a swing tip junkie. Were it not for coronavirus forcing Greg Norman to keep his clothes on, succumbing might have been a relief.
As the rhythm of professional golf was thrown into chaos, it was an arrestive reminder that this is a game to be played rather than consumed, one best enjoyed with family and friends, not on screens large or small. Whatever we as fans lose in 2020, whatever asterisks besoil the historical record, perhaps we can emerge with a renewed appreciation for what golf provides, and for the people who provide it. There are many thousands of good people on and off the Tour caravan – maintenance crews, clubhouse servers, caddies, hospitality vendors, manufacturers – for whom coronavirus has brought financial hardship and health crises, for whom months without pay means penury.
If we are fortunate enough to see FedEx Cup bonuses distributed this year, it would be a noble reflection on the game if somehow those folk were included in the accounting.
We’ll reach the safe side of this void some day and elite golfers will dismount their Pelotons and get back to business. The governing bodies will endeavor to salvage what they can of the season for the sake of continuity. Let’s hope that involves shifting the cornerstones around which we rotate, even if it means Augusta in the fall and a British links in weather that’s actually appropriate to the season at hand.
“I honestly don’t think the players and fans care too much if they play four weeks in a row for the majors,” former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn tweeted. “It means we are back playing golf, which means the world is in a better place than it is today.”
Golfweek.com, March 24, 2020.