PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday that the tour has no plans to cancel upcoming events because of the coronavirus outbreak, including the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, in two weeks.
There were concerns that the match-play tournament, scheduled for March 25-29 at Austin Country Club, might be in jeopardy after the city’s popular South by Southwest festival was canceled last week.
“We fully expect that the tournament will be held in Austin,” Monahan said during an hourlong news conference ahead of this week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. “That tournament is two weeks away. We’re all in and making certain that we’re able to operate that event.
“There are various iterations or there are different ways of operating an event based on the circumstances, in terms of fan involvement. … But we’re still confident.”
Monahan said the PGA Tour had formed a coronavirus task force, led by medical director Tom Hospel and chief administrative officer Allison Keller, to monitor the developing crisis.
On Tuesday, MotoGP’s Grand Prix of the Americas, scheduled to take place in Austin the April 3-5 weekend, was postponed until mid-November.
Monahan said the tour would continue monitoring the conditions in Austin and at other stops. The tour’s next event is the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, next week.
“I think it goes without saying that the health, safety, well-being of our players, our fans, our tournaments, everybody that’s involved in our ecosystem is of utmost importance,” Monahan said. “This really is about a market-to-market exercise and truly understanding … local public health officials, local government officials, what’s happening on the ground through our tournament directors in every single market where we play.”
Spain’s Jon Rahm said he’ll probably be more cautious about fist-bumping fans and signing autographs, starting at this week’s Players Championship.
“I know it affects the elderly a little more, and I have an 85-year-old grandma with asthma, and I know it’s a respiratory virus,” Rahm said. “So I know she’s a target, and she is close to me and dear to me. My brother has asthma, [wife] Kelly has asthma, Kelly’s mom has asthma. I know it’s a respiratory problem, so there’s so many cases close to me that it could affect, so it is obviously my duty and everyone’s to do as much as we can to prevent that even as hard as it is, it is what it is.
“So this week, I love to fist pump and high five the kids, but it might be the one week where we don’t do it. I love also to sign autographs, I might restrain from that a little bit, too. Not from being selfish reasons, I just feel like it might be the best thing for everybody.”
In other developments:
• Monahan said the PGA Tour hasn’t had discussions with the PGA of America about relocating the PGA Championship from Harding Park in San Francisco to TPC Sawgrass in May.
On Saturday, the San Francisco Department of Health issued an order prohibiting public gatherings of more than 50 people at certain city-owned facilities. Harding Park was not among the affected venues.
“They are fully planning on proceeding with the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco,” Monahan said. “But when you get in these extraordinary circumstances, you have to make yourself available to your partners, and you have to really work as closely together as you ever have to help each other get through this.”
In a statement on Monday, PGA of America said: “We are carefully monitoring this rapidly-evolving situation as it relates to the 2020 PGA Championship in San Francisco. We are in close cooperation and communication with representatives from San Francisco and will continue to follow the guidance of state and city officials and public health authorities. As always, the safety and well-being of all involved is our highest priority.”
Also on Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a 1-mile containment zone in New Rochelle, New York, which is believed to be the center of the state’s coronavirus outbreak. New Rochelle is about 4 miles from Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, the site of June’s U.S. Open.
• Monahan said the tour’s recently announced media rights deal, which includes digital programming on ESPN+, would allow it to dramatically increase prize money when the new nine-year deal begins in 2022.
Monahan estimated that the purse for the Players Championship might increase from $15 million to $25 million in the future and prize money for the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs from $70 million to as much as $100 million or more.
“There’s a day in the not-too-distant future where that [FedEx] Cup will be worth significantly more, perhaps $100 million or more,” Monahan said. “That’s not a commitment, but that’s, generally speaking, the kind of growth that I expected for us to see for our athletes.”
• The potential for increased prize money comes at a time when the PGA Tour is trying to quash its members’ interest in the fledgling Premier Golf League, a Saudi-backed tour that wants to pit 48 of the best players in the world in 18 events, 10 in the U.S. and eight in other parts of the world.
The PGL would include a team model with players having ownership stakes. The four-man teams would reportedly compete for $10 million weekly purses and a season-ending bonus.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy has already spoken out against the PGL, saying he prefers the flexibility the PGA Tour provides him. Phil Mickelson has expressed at least some interest in the PGL, and other players, including Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods, have been noncommittal.
“I certainly have talked to a number of our top players,” Monahan said. “I’ve talked to players across our membership, and as you recall, this is something that has been rumored for several years, so it hasn’t just started of late, it’s something that we’ve talked to our players about for several years.
“I would just tell you that we’re encouraged by the response that our players have had in our discussions. I think that the value that we provide to our players, to our tournaments, to our fans, the news that we’ve just talked about, securing $12 billion in revenue through 2030, the strength and security and foundation of this tour has never been stronger, so that’s what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the excellence that we want to continue to achieve with our players, and our commitment is always one to listen and to respond.”
Monahan said he isn’t surprised that a competitor has emerged to challenge the PGA Tour.
“I think that it’s flattering when any entity is looking at what’s happening on the PGA Tour and they see growth, they see momentum, they see a broadening reach to a larger fan base domestically and internationally, and it’s no surprise that someone is coming to try and take a piece of that,” he said. “That’s the nature of business.”