The golf course is the famed Colonial Country Club, famously known as “Hogan’s Alley." The field includes 16 of the top 20 players in the Official World Golf Rankings, with the top five — Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and Dustin Johnson — all competing.
However, when the Charles Schwab Challenge begins Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas, players will be striking a golf ball for money on the PGA Tour for the first time in 13 weeks. There will be no fans in attendance. The contestants and their caddies are following strict protocols and testing for COVID-19.
Still, even with just how strange this is going to feel for the players, and look for those watching on television, one thing can be said: Golf is back, pandemic or no pandemic.
“It’s all a bit different, and it doesn't necessarily feel totally normal, as it shouldn't,” three-time major champion Jordan Spieth said Tuesday. “But I think everybody is very excited to get going. I know I am.”
The last round of golf on the tour took place March 12, the opening 18 of The Players Championship. With Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert having tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the NBA to suspend its season the night before, officials canceled the event. Six additional tournaments were wiped out and the Masters was moved to Nov. 6-9.
Beginning Thursday, men’s professional golf will be played for 13 consecutive weeks, highlighted by the PGA Championship Aug. 6-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, and capped by the Tour Championship, the final event of the 2019-20 season. The rescheduled U.S. Open will be played Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot in suburban New York, the week before the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
One element to look for when the 148 players tee off Thursday will be the players’ various stages of rust. Except for five players — McIlroy, Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Matthew Wolff, and Phil Mickelson, all of whom competed last month in made-for-TV exhibitions — much of the rest of the field last struck a serious shot at The Players.
“I’ve chatted with quite a few players,” said CBS analyst Nick Faldo, who will be working from a studio in Orlando. “It ranges from guys that put the clubs down for a couple of months and have gone fishing, to some who have been at it every single day. So that will all be very interesting.”
Of course, playing without fans, which will be the standard for the first five tournaments of the restarted schedule, will be an experience in itself.
“It will be odd, especially given I’m paired with Rickie and Justin,” Spieth said. “We’re used to being paired where we get a lot of people and you can feed off the crowds and all that.
“Once the tournament starts, I think it’ll be weird because we’re used to being able to use the energy of the fans, and we love having the support.”
Among the four top-20 players not competing this week is Tiger Woods, which naturally leads to widespread speculation as to where he will resume his season. He skipped The Players Championship, so he has played one competitive round since Feb. 16, when he finished last in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera among players who made the 36-hole cut.
However, that one competitive round was spectacular, coming at last month’s Champions for Charity match where he didn’t miss a fairway.
The guess is that Woods will likely play next in Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament (an event he has won five times) from July 16 to 19. His next victory will be his 83rd on the tour, breaking the record he shares with Sam Snead for most career wins.
After this week, the tour will stage the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head Island, S.C., the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and a yet-to-be-named tournament that will be played at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club the week before the Memorial.
The trial over that time will be the logistics of week-to-week travel; strict testing protocols for players, caddies, staff and community volunteers; disinfecting surfaces; and social distancing.
For now, this new world will take some adjustment.