You know what we’re going to talk about, so let’s get right to it.
In today’s newsletter…
- The PGA Tour becomes one of the last major sports leagues to suspend action in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
From the U.S. perspective, the coronavirus has been a major news story for the past few months, but an immediate, material reality for only the past week or so. Finally, in the past 48 hours, it took over sports. Nearly all American leagues took decisive action to help stop the spread of the disease in the States. The NBA, NHL, and MLS suspended their seasons, the MLB stopped spring training and delayed opening day by two weeks, and the NCAA canceled all winter and spring championships. Even the XFL is pressing pause on its season.
In pro golf, the LPGA and PGA Tours responded to the coronavirus threat in very different ways—at first.
The LPGA postponed the next three events on its schedule, including the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year. Here’s commissioner Mike Whan: “I feel fairly confident we could probably play Phoenix, maybe we could even play Carlsbad, play without fans and keep everybody else out… but can I live with it if I’m wrong? If I’m wrong, I regret that the rest of my life.”
Strong words from Whan—and ones that show where his values lie. He’s looking out for the people in and around the LPGA Tour, and the revenue isn’t worth the risk.
The PGA Tour, on the other hand, went ahead with round one of the Players Championship—with fans! During a press conference after play had started, commissioner Jay Monahan laid out a plan for the Tour to continue without fans for the next three weeks. He repeatedly claimed that the outdoor setting of golf allows players and fans to practice “social distancing,” per CDC recommendations.
Then, a few minutes before 10 p.m. Eastern, the PGA Tour announced that the remainder of the Players Championship would be called off, and that all PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Latinoamérica, and Mackenzie Tour events would be canceled through April 5.
Thus concluded the craziest two-day stretches we can remember in the sports world. Every notable professional sports organization (except NASCAR, apparently?) has hit the pause button—for at least a month, it seems. No one can’t predict what will happen next in golf, but suffice it to say that Augusta National Golf Club will have to make a big decision very soon.
In case there’s any doubt, The Fried Egg will continue to bring you content as usual during pro golf’s hiatus. The newsletter, three times a week; The Shotgun Start, three times a week; and as many quality podcasts, articles, and videos as we can churn out. We work from home anyway!
The Players Championship
- Normally, we would talk about the leaders, the chasers, the losers, etc. etc. But the 2020 Players Championship is no more. The leaderboard shall be frozen in time.
Hideki Matsuyama tied the Stadium Course record of 63 on Thursday. Since players were still on the course when play was suspended due to darkness on Thursday, however, we’re not sure what the status of Hideki’s round will be in record books.
C.T. Pan withdrew from the Players before Thursday’s round over coronavirus concerns. In a tweet that has since been deleted, Pan said “I’m probably the only one who is not playing, same number as the hand sanitizers in the clubhouse, lockers, and dining.” Burn! Also, if accurate, an incredibly valid critique.
Another dissenting voice: Lucas Glover on Twitter. Glover took a more humorous approach, and he went through with his first round, but afterwards he explained that his worry was genuine. “That’s my way of disagreeing with something is try to be funny about it,” he said.
After his round, Rory McIlroy called for every PGA Tour player to get tested for the coronavirus.
PGA Tour security booted a fan on Thursday for saying “Patrick, sign my shovel” in the calmest of manners. Protect. Mr. Reed. At. All. Costs.
Dylan Dethier has an excellent piece for Golf dot com about the strange, awkward day at TPC Sawgrass.
The Must-Sees of Public Golf Architecture in America
Stoatin Brae at Gull Lake View Golf Club (Augusta, Michigan)
The making of Stoatin Brae was a unique experiment: Renaissance Golf Design’s associates Brian Schneider, Eric Iverson, Don Placek, and Brian Slawnik (with the help of Blake Conant) designed the course without input from lead architect Tom Doak. The talented crew produced a wonderful golf course that takes advantage of a strong piece of land. Nos. 10 through 14 play up, off, and around a prominent knob on the property; it’s a fun, varied stretch of golf. When Stoatin Brae opened in 2017, it played firm and fast, but by late 2018, the course was suffering from mismanaged maintenance. The shrinking of the fairways and greens is concerning, as is the ownership’s reluctance to keep control of the aggressive native grasses, which make lost balls a possibility on every hole. If you’re a fan of golf architecture, you might want to go see Stoatin Brae soon, before it becomes one of those “what could be” stories.
Insider tip: The nearby city of Kalamazoo is the ideal stop on a trip up to Northern Michigan. It has a fun downtown with a few good places to sit and have a drink, including the well-known Bell’s Brewery. -Andy Johnson
Photo credit: Andy Johnson
The Latest from The Fried Egg
Fried Egg Stories, Episode 4 – Alligator Pit: The Making of TPC Sawgrass
In this installment of our audio documentary series, we go back to a time when the PGA Tour operated out of a four-bedroom home in Ponte Vedra Beach. Not far from that home was a flat expanse of swampy jungle. We tell the story of how commissioner Deane Beman and architect Pete Dye turned that land into a new kind of golf venue—and how the pros reacted when they competed on it for the first time. This episode features interviews with Beman, U.S. Open and Players champion Jerry Pate, architect Tom Doak, TPC Sawgrass project manager Vernon Kelly, and journalists Adam Schupak and Sean Martin. It includes music from Assaf Ayalon, Avi Goldfinger, Maya Johanna, Ian Post, and Swirling Ship (artlist.io), as well as from Kevin McLeod (incompetech.filmmusic.io). Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
- Sean Martin, “Leap of faith: Behind the Stadium Course’s wild debut at the 1982 Players Championship”
- Adam Schupak, Golf’s Driving Force
The Shotgun Start: The Gold Cancellation, Monahan’s moment, and Mudball Madness
We recorded this episode prior to news of the Players Championship cancellation, so there’s a 7-minute addendum at the front of it talking about the final decision to pull the plug on the remaining three rounds. The rest of it still stands and applies regardless of the Tour reaching that final decision, and it covers their obstinance all week, from refusing to pass on the media tour with markets in freefall to being one of the last sports on the island to cancel events. The decision to have fans on Thursday is also panned in the week of Ponte Vedra feet dragging. There is a certain level of empathy expressed for the truly crap hand they were dealt, but the process of how they played that hand is why the Tour showed some ways in which it’s come unmoored. A short discussion on the actual golf on Thursday focuses on Hideki’s course record round, how in the world they didn’t get done before darkness, the bunker cam impediment, and how a relatively dry few weeks produced a round rife with mudballs. Flashback Friday homes in on a Players and Sawgrass record that may never be matched as well as some colorful writing about Fuzzy Zoeller. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
Listen, there will not be golf to watch for a very long time. We’re going to have to do our best to entertain ourselves, and that means playing rounds ourselves. Pick up a Fried Egg towel, scrub those clubs, and get after it.