Canadian golfers not changing plans as novel coronavirus spreads

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Despite the spread of the novel coronavirus, it’s business as usual for Canadian golfers on the PGA Tour. The record five Canadians playing this week at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, are trying to not let the health crisis impact what they’re […]

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Despite the spread of the novel coronavirus, it’s business as usual for Canadian golfers on the PGA Tour.

The record five Canadians playing this week at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, are trying to not let the health crisis impact what they’re doing on the course.

“I’m not worried about it too much,” said Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont. “I’m digging into some research about it and it’s obviously not something you want to get or spread around, but I think the tour is doing a good job and I feel pretty safe.”

Conners said the tour has been in contact with the players and is co-ordinating efforts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.

There was a note circulated amongst players this week saying there will be signage on course indicating golfers may choose not to sign autographs and limit contact with fans.

Nearly 200,000 fans attended The Players Championship last year, with 67 per cent coming from outside the local region, according to figures provided by the tournament. The event is in North Florida on the Atlantic coast, about a 40-minute drive from Jacksonville.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Health said anyone who has travelled to China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea should self-isolate for 14 days.

Winnipeg native Ryan Hart, in his second year as the tournament director of The Players, said the tournament is working “in lockstep” with various government entities. They’ve added more than 40 hand-sanitizing stations on course and increased messaging on site and social channels.

“It’s a day to day thing. Right now, we’re playing golf,” said Hart. “It’s something you work each day with the governments on, with communications, and go from there. All we can do is be prepared.”

Last week, the PGA Tour said there would be no planned schedule changes beyond what was decided with PGA Tour China, where the start of the 2020 season has been delayed.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday the tour has developed a business unit led by the tour’s medical director and chief administrative officer.

“We have organized a large team to fully understand the coronavirus and its implications on all facets of our business,” said Monahan. “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.”

The PGA Tour is set to play the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas in two weeks, even though the large South by Southwest entertainment festival in the same city was just cancelled.

“We’re all in and making certain that we’re able to operate that event,” he said. “Now, there are various iterations or there are different ways of operating an event based on the circumstances in terms of fan involvement and how we operate the event, but we’re still confident that we’d be able to operate the event.”

Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., and Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont. all have young children and expressed varying levels of concern this week at The Players.

“I think there is some reason to be concerned but at the same time, it’s like other viruses that come along. To an extent, life will go on,” Hughes said. “There are things that need to happen. If everyone stayed inside for the next two months, I don’t know how that would work out.”

Sloan, who is making his Players Championship debut this week, said he hasn’t heard too much from the other players.

“We all travel, but when you talk about (over 700) people (in the U.S.) being infected out of 330 million, that’s such an insignificant number,” said Sloan, who added that once the PGA Tour schedule gets into the major championship season, there might be more cause for concern because of the international fields, media, and spectators.

The Masters is the first major in April and tournament organizers already released a statement, advising people who are travelling to Augusta, Ga., to follow the necessary precautions installed by the CDC and other organizations.

Of more concern is the PGA Championship, which is set to take place May 14-17 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. The BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., was cancelled Sunday. On Tuesday, Santa Clara County banned gatherings of more than 1,000-plus people, including San Jose Sharks games.

In a statement to The Canadian Press, a PGA of America spokesperson said the organization was working through all scenarios as it relates to the upcoming major.

The LPGA Tour’s first major of 2020, the ANA Inspiration from April 2-5, is in Rancho Mirage, Calif., just 15 minutes from Indian Wells.

While the LPGA has cancelled three events in Asia, its North American schedule remains unchanged.

Meanwhile, Hadwin, who just became a father in January and leads all Canadians in the FedEx Cup standings, plans to maintain his routine.

“If they stop putting on tournaments, I can’t go play,” he said. “I’m not too stressed about it. I’m still shaking hands. … It hasn’t gone through our world yet. If that changes, things might be different.”

The Players Championship begins Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.

Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., is the other Canadian in the field.

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