PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy awoke early Friday morning ready to go through his routine to prepare for the second round of the Players Championship.
With a scheduled 8:46 a.m. tee time, he had gone to bed early Thursday evening — and missed the text from the PGA Tour that the tournament was being canceled due to ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.
After an extraordinary 48-hour period in the sports world, the PGA Tour waffled, first going on as planned, then deciding to play without spectators for the final three rounds, then ultimately late Thursday night making the call to cancel the Players Championship as well as the next three events on the schedule.
“It’s the right decision, of course it’s the right decision,” McIlroy said Friday morning at the TPC-Sawgrass, where he was gathering his belongings before heading home to an uncertain golf future. “I stood up there yesterday after playing and was like, doing what they did was a step in the right direction.
“But they were saying they were taking it hour-by-hour and seeing how it would all play out, and here we are.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan defended the decision to begin the tournament and then try to proceed without spectators, saying all involved in the process were on board with attempting do right by the players and sponsors.
But as world events continued to evolve, Monahan said the plight of international players who compete on the PGA Tour and the closing of theme parks in Orlando — including Walt Disney World, which is on the way to the next scheduled tour stop outside of Tampa — helped him and the tour staff come to a different conclusion.
“Even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we’ve done all the right things, we can’t proceed, and it’s not right to proceed,” Monahan said at a Friday morning news conference. “And when you use doing the right thing as the litmus test, those two things together were really the things that drove the decision.”
Monahan said the Players Championship was not postponed, but canceled, due to a lack of open dates on the schedule and the fact that it is unclear just how long it might be before golf resumes.
In addition to the Players Championship, next week’s Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, the WGC-Dell Technologies Championship in Austin, Texas, and the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio were also canceled. The next tournament on the schedule is the Masters, April 9-12, which is run by Augusta National. So far, Augusta officials have made no public statements as to their timeline or plans.
Because the Players Championship began and the first round was played, tour regulations stipulate that half of the $15 million purse be paid out. That means all 144 players in the field who started will receive just over $52,000 in prize money that is considered unofficial.
C.T. Pan, who withdrew before the first round started and was critical of the decision to go forward with the tournament, will not be paid because he did not play.
“You keep hearing that word that it’s a fluid situation, that things are changing at a fast pace, when I showed up here Monday it wasn’t even a thought,” said Webb Simpson. I knew there were a couple of confirmed cases [in Florida], but the way this thing progressed, you wake up one day and you might hear something completely different.”
The decision to cancel was a relief to Bernd Wiesberger, who is from Austria and subject to the confusing nature of the European travel ban.
“Obviously everyone would love to see some golf, but in the bigger picture I’m in constant contact with family and relatives in Europe and it’s pretty bad there,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going back home and being with them and help out over there, so in the bigger picture just having a tournament here and that’s it.
“It’s unprecedented times. We all need to kind of stick together and do the right thing for everyone, for the elderly, to not have anyone affected that doesn’t need to be, and therefore I think it’s good we’re packing up today and kind of doing home and try to have as minimal social contact as possible and try not to spread it any further.”
Wiesberger said he is on the last Austrian Airlines flight back to Vienna on Friday.
“I’m pretty sure more travel bans are going to happen for Europe, and it’s going to be a bit crazy, so I’m actually quite fortunate to be able to go back,” said Wiesberger, who is ranked 26th in the world and plays primarily on the European Tour. “But it also means I won’t be able to come back for the Masters, if that is going to happen. I doubt it, but we’ll see. But you know, decisions have to be made, and I think it’s the only right one.”
Monahan said he was not aware of any PGA Tour players or staff who had been infected with the virus, nor could he say how many have actually been tested.
As for when golf will resume, Monahan said the next tournament following the Masters is the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and for now he will proceed as if that is going to occur.
“We have to understand all the facts and get ourselves ready to be playing the tournament and we’re going to operate as if we are and having been operating from this point forward,” Monahan said.