Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson were among the five players to withdraw from the Travelers Championship, four of them due to the caution of the coronavirus chain reaction that alerted the PGA Tour.
“The snowball is getting a little bigger,” Graeme McDowell told The Associated Press after retiring on Wednesday because her lifelong caddy, Ken Comboy, tested positive for the virus.
The tour yielded results that showed three positive tests at the TPC River Highlands in Connecticut: Cameron Champ and the Koepka and McDowell caddies. There was no positive evidence at the Korn Ferry Tour event in Utah.
As it enters its third week on its return from the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down golf for three months, the course has administered 2,757 tests at the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour events in five states, with seven positive results.
On the PGA Tour alone, there have been 1,382 tests and four positive results.
“It’s a low number on a percentage basis, but each number hurts,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. “I think we should all remind ourselves that we are all learning to live with this virus.
“It is pretty clear that this virus is not going anywhere.”
Nick Watney was the first player to test positive last week at RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, which was packed with people on summer vacation.
Champ tested positive on travelers Tuesday and immediately withdrew.
Four more players withdrew even with negative results.
Koepka said her caddy, Ricky Elliott, tested positive and then took another test that was negative. Never mind. He decided to fold, and was especially discouraged because his younger brother, Chase Koepka, dropped out after winning a rare opportunity to play a qualifying Monday.
When his brother did, Koepka arranged a house for him to stay on Tuesday, so he had his brother stay with him in the meantime. The brothers then played a practice round with McDowell and British Open champion Shane Lowry.
Both Koepkas said they felt they should withdraw because they were in close contact with someone who tested positive.
“I feel terrible for Chase,” said Koepka. “This course is made for him, he is playing as well as I have seen him.” And I put him in that situation. It is one thing if I retire. You don’t get this opportunity very often. “
Simpson, who won RBC Heritage last week with a record score that took him to No. 5 in the world, retired when he learned that a family member had tested positive.
Monahan said the tour would continue, and that there was no set number of positive tests leading to the closure of the golf again.
“We feel that we are on a path that will allow us to continue to maintain our return to golf,” said Monahan. “But rest assured, there won’t be many sleepless nights. When you work in a world of uncertainty, these are the things that worry you. “
Monahan sent out a memo to the players describing the increased measures in their health and safety protocols. Those include testing players before and after taking charter flights. Swing coaches now face mandatory testing every week and will be considered part of the bubble, and the fitness trailer will be in tournaments to keep players from going to gyms.
He also said the tour will no longer pay for players or caddies to isolate themselves for positive tests if they have not followed the health and safety plan.
“We all have an extraordinary responsibility to follow these protocols,” Monahan said, adding that she has sometimes felt guilty while adjusting to a new way of life. “For any individual that doesn’t, there will be serious repercussions.”
He did not say what the punishment would be. The tour does not publish disciplinary actions or fines.
McDowell says his caddy flew on a commercial flight that was packed from Dallas to Orlando, Florida, after he lost the cut at Colonial. That Monday, they went to a memorial service, along with Elliott, who grew up with McDowell in Northern Ireland, and the McDowell coach, and then drove six hours to Hilton Head.
“The problem is, people are testing here when they could still have the virus,” McDowell said. “That is what we are learning. Ricky passed a test on Monday and simply failed this morning. “
The PGA Tour’s return to tournaments began with a perfect record: 487 tests for players who arrived at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas; 98 players on the charter flight to South Carolina; 369 tests on Hilton Head Island. Everything turned negative.
But now there have been four positive tests in the past six days, and Monahan said no one should be surprised if there is more next week in Detroit, or the next two weeks in Ohio.
“I think this is the reality of what we all live through,” he said. “We are doing everything possible so that this is not the case. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised. I certainly hope that we will not. But to be able to say that we are not going to have any case … it would be false because we are all learning as we go along. “
McDowell said he would take two weeks off and hoped to return in July during the first of two weeks in Ohio. So much depends on the virus and if it reaches a level that it is not prudent for golf to continue.
“Do we close, do we start in a month, two months? Are you coming back and what has changed? McDowell said. “I think the tour is doing a good job. It is very difficult to control everyone outside the doors.
“We have to get to the other side of this.”