'Everyone on tour needs to get tested,' says Rory McIlroy as PGA Players Championship is cancelled

'Everyone on tour needs to get tested,' says Rory McIlroy as PGA Players Championship is cancelled
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan at a news conference at the The Players Championship golf tournament yesterday. Pic: AP

While you were sleeping, the Players Championship and the rest of the PGA Tour schedule up to the Masters Tournament got cancelled as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

At 10pm last night, hours after the conclusion of the first-round play, the PGA Tour announced the cancellation of the final three rounds of its $15 million flagship event as well as the ensuing Valspar Championship, WGC Dell Match Play Championship and Valero Texas Open. The next potential event on the golf calendar is the Masters currently scheduled for April 9-12.

“It is with regret that we are announcing the cancellation of the Players Championship,” read a statement posted on the tour’s website. “We have also decided to cancel all PGA Tour events – across all of our Tours – in the coming weeks, through the Valero Texas Open.

“We have pledged from the start to be responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process. We did everything possible to create a safe environment for our players in order to continue the event throughout the weekend, and we were endeavoring to give our fans a much-needed respite from the current climate.

"But at this point – and as the situation continues to rapidly change – the right thing to do for our players and our fans is to pause.”

The tour said it would answer questions regarding the decision this morning.

Earlier on Thursday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced that the Players and the next three tour events would continue as scheduled but without spectators. But hours after play was suspended for darkness, players were notified by text that the rest of the tournament was cancelled immediately.

It was another sudden shift in a series of rapidly changing decisions across the sports world over two days. All the major professional and collegiate sports leagues were cancelling or suspending play indefinitely. Even Walt Disney World and Disneyland in Florida and California closed doors for the remainder of March as the world tries to stem the spread of COVID-19.

'Everyone on tour needs to get tested,' says Rory McIlroy as PGA Players Championship is cancelled

Rory McIlroy, the reigning Players champion, set the tone after his opening round in his comments.

“You look at the trends and you look at everything that's happening across the rest of the world, it's in its infancy here in the United States,” McIlroy said of the pandemic.

“It's going to get worse before it gets better. So I mean, I think it's a hard one because you look at volunteers out here and a lot of volunteers are in their 60’s and 70's and retired and you don't want someone that's got the virus that passes it on to them and then they're susceptible.

My mother's got respiratory issues and I certainly don't want to get something and pass it on to her and all of a sudden there's some sort of complication.

“So it's scary time, and I think that the PGA Tour have made a step in the right direction and I think we just have to play it by ear and take it day by day. As someone said to me yesterday, today's overreaction could look like tomorrow's underreaction.”

McIlroy added he thought that every player on tour should be tested for the virus and that everything should stop if anyone tested positive. He planned to get tested as soon as he returned home.

“We need to shut it down then,” McIlroy said. “I mean, and that's the thing, more than anything else, everyone needs to get tested.

"I don't know, I saw that obviously there's commercial labs now are testing at some capacity, I guess, but I think for us to keep playing on tour, all the tour players and people that are involved need to get tested and make sure that no one's got it. "Because obviously everyone knows you can have it and not have symptoms and pass it on to someone that's more susceptible to getting very ill from it.”

Graeme McDowell, who shot 68 in the morning on Thursday to sit tied for seventh when play was suspended, said he would not be surprised if the event was cancelled before they ever played without fans for the rest of the week.

“None of us would have been surprised to hear the horn go off mid round today,” McDowell said. “What’s happened in basketball and football and other sports around the world, none of us would have been surprised with any decision that came along.

McDowell admitted his feelings about the escalating crisis changed overnight, but he trusted the PGA Tour leadership to make the proper decisions.

“Up until last night it was beginning to frustrate me and I thought we were all kind of overreacting,” McDowell said. “But it seems like things just escalated unbelievably over the last 24 hours. It’s important that sport really shows a kind of concerted effort to contain this thing and realize professional sport is insignificant compared to what this coronavirus is and what it’s doing to the world.”

Players seemed content to continue playing without spectators, considering the tournaments are conducted over hundreds of acres instead of cramp indoor arenas like other sports. However, the responsibility to contain the viral outbreak and the potential liability should something happen to anyone contracting the virus at the tour event prevailed in the end.

Statements from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan likely played a part in the tour’s change of heart. The LPGA cancelled three upcoming events including the women’s first golf major of the season, the ANA Inspriation

“I feel pretty confident we could play and play them without fans and keep everybody else out and keep some personal distance, but can I live with it if I’m wrong?” Whan told the Golf Channel. “If I’m wrong I’ll regret that the rest of my life.”

Speculation will now turn to the status of the season’s first major at Augusta National. Masters chairman Fred Ridley last week said that the tournament as well as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and Drive, Chip and Putt Championship would be held as scheduled, but that the club was working with health officials to determine the proper course of action.

There is the potential that the Masters could still be played in April without patrons or be postponed until September before the club opens for the next season. The club has yet to make an announcement.

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