After two home-bound, quarantine-themed months of homemade meals, Dr. Fauci and curve-flattening, will watching Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson (above, right and left) play Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a charity skins game behind the curtain at Seminole feel like a Yeti tumbler full of ice water on a hot August afternoon?
Darn right it will.
One Sunday afternoon skins game won’t make things normal again – it feels like we’re a very long way from that happening – but it’s an early flower in springtime, the first notes in a concert, a routine par on the first hole.
For those of us fortunate to live in areas where golf courses have remained open through this pandemic, the game has stayed alive for us. Many courses have never been busier thanks to a proper spring in many parts of the country. Where I play, tee times open four days in advance at 7 a.m. and if you go looking for a time at 7:05, you’re out of luck.
In other spots, golf is just tentatively emerging from its sabbatical.
Like every other corner of our world, golf has made accommodations to cope with the coronavirus. If courses have been open, there have been raised cup, no bunker rakes, no touching the flagsticks and one person to a cart. Ranges have been closed and clubhouses have become empty buildings.
It’s actually a small price for what feels more like a luxury than ever before.
Now professional golf is coming back with a televised skins game (Sunday at 2 p.m., Eastern time, on NBC, Golf Channel and Sky Sports) that will raise millions for charity thanks to TaylorMade, UnitedHealthcare and others. It’s a drip from a faucet compared to the typical fire hose of tournament activity this time of year but it feels like a ceiling fan being turned on in a stuffy room.
And there’s more coming.
The Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson-Peyton Manning-Tom Brady shindig is scheduled at the end of the month (another charity-driven event with no player compensation) and the PGA Tour is still working toward restarting the second week of June in Texas.
It is, to use the parlance of the day, a phased reopening and it arrives like a stimulus check to golf fans.
Credit McIlroy with instigating the four-man skins game that came together with his TaylorMade compatriots and a nod of appreciation goes to Seminole, which appreciates its privacy, all of them understanding this event can raise several million dollars to benefit COVID-19 relief efforts. McIlroy is as gifted at hitting the right notes as he is at hitting his driver.
The players, according to those involved, will receive no money for participating. They will carry their own bags, play in shorts and abide by proper social distancing guidelines, which means no high-fives between partners. It will be simple, with a stripped-down telecast in which Mike Tirico, the play-by-play man, will call the action from his Michigan home.
That’s where we are – or where we aren’t – these days.
Seminole is the star of stars in this situation and if there’s just enough breeze off the Atlantic, it will enhance the course’s brilliance. Regardless, it will introduce Seminole to an audience that has heard about it but never seen it. Imagine seeing Casablanca for the first time.
On a personal note, Seminole achieved the near impossible: It exceeded my enormous expectations, putting it in a small group with Paris, every Springsteen concert and a bottle of Shafer Hillside Select cabernet.
Two months have passed since PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan called a halt to the business of professional golf here and, while it has been missed, the preoccupation with the forced adjustment to a new way of life has restructured priorities, even if it has left us marking time by episodes of The Last Dance on ESPN.
Masks and meat shortages have diverted attention that otherwise might have been directed to the weekly rhythm of professional golf and, specifically, to the PGA Championship which was scheduled to be played this week.
For the skins game participants, it’s pushed them back to work. Fowler said he didn’t touch his golf clubs for the first month he was at home. Johnson went longer than that without hitting balls. McIlroy played 18 holes for the first time just more than a week ago.
With this event locked in and progress being made toward resuming the PGA Tour schedule, it’s a bit of optimism at a time when that has been hard to find.
“I’m very hopeful that the schedule the tour put out is going to happen,” McIlroy said on a recent podcast. “Everyone that’s working on it is very confident that we’re going to be able to get back out on the golf course, obviously with a lot of precautions, taking all the necessary measures to make sure that we keep everyone safe and healthy.
“I think just the whole world is starved for sport on TV and, obviously, we’re going to come back to those first four events and there won’t be any spectators. But I think just for people to have a little bit of escapism and watch something on TV that isn’t the news and isn’t about the coronavirus will be nice for some people.”
Yes, it will.