Professional golf returned Sunday at Seminole Golf Club not with a bang but with the soft sounds of four guys playing a match, their irons clicking against each other as they carried their bags, the competition itself far less important than what it benefited and what it symbolized.
In a sense, it was one small step for golf, one giant leap toward the professional game’s return.
As refreshing as it was to see Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff giving us a shot-by-shot tour of Seminole, it was impossible to ignore the obvious. Professional golf is coming back but not like it was before.
That’s true of life itself these days.
As we edge back toward the way things used to be just three months ago, most of us are doing it tentatively, our masks at the ready. Some people are ignoring the reality because some people never can see beyond themselves. It was that way before the pandemic and one extended quarantine didn’t change that.
Golf in a bubble is, for a while anyway, a way of life.
It’s not so much a question of whether it’s good or bad. It’s just different.
“I think everything is going to be weird,” Johnson said, “just because it’s going to be so different for us from what we’re used to. … It’s all just going to be different.”
What happened at Seminole on Sunday was a brilliant way to start, putting a rarely seen golf course on display, featuring some of the game’s most personable stars and doing it all to raise millions of dollars for COVID-19 relief funds.
When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do it this Sunday with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, it will be similar. Small but big at the same time because of the personalities.
It’s when the PGA Tour resumes in June at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial – it seems almost certain to happen after initial skepticism – that the new reality will settle in.
As casual golfers, we’ve all felt it, even if some of us have had to wait longer than others for golf to be given the nod to resume. One person to a cart. Flagsticks in. No bunker rakes.
In some ways, the game has been streamlined for us. If leaving the flagstick in seemed strange 16 months ago, it now feels like a way of life going forward. Going back to two players in a cart will slow down the pace of play again.
Getting back to the business of professional golf, it’s a welcome return and a golden opportunity for the game. While other sports try to figure out how and when and if they can get back to their games this year, golf is already there.
The nature of the game helps, obviously. It’s easier to keep your distance on a golf course and the decision to play without spectators for at least the first four events wasn’t really a decision at all. It was the only way and the guess here is it will be a long time before spectators return to golf tournaments.
Getting back to golf isn’t getting back to what was familiar. The PGA Tour is taking this seriously enough that it has told players that their families are not allowed to join them at tournaments. The tour is intent on keeping the bubble tight and contained, as it should.
If you read through the 37-page document the tour has provided to players about how things will operate when play resumes, it’s hard not to ask one question: If it means going to these extremes to play, is it worth it?
If all of these precautions are necessary, maybe the tour shouldn’t be playing. There are, no doubt, some people who feel that way.
“If you have to do all that, doesn’t that tell you something?” one player said.
It seems, however, that the tour is doing all the right things to ensure it’s being careful and conscientious. If this were a bad idea, there are enough voices to warn them off. That hasn’t happened.
When play resumes, it looks as though the fields will be stuffed with virtually every top player the first few weeks. Given the dearth of live competition elsewhere, it should add eyeballs to television sets.
It will be strange to watch events with no spectators and the telecasts themselves will be different. Typically, the bulk of television work has been done in cramped quarters, and the details of changing that are still being worked out, according to people in the business.
Some announcers will do their work off-site and, for a while anyway, some of the extra touches we as viewers have become familiar with will be missing.
Since the Players Championship stopped in mid-March, the only action has been the reshuffling of schedules, fitting parts into places they wouldn’t normally fit, all while hoping the world outside would improve enough to allow tournament golf to resume.
Sunday at Seminole was a happy renewal, even if it was small and wrapped in a protective bubble. It felt like the first step in the way forward.