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PGA Tour players recall beginning of COVID pandemic

During his annual address to the media at the Players Championship last week, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan used the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” four times.

While the commissioner was looking ahead, players were turning back the clock. It was after the first round of the Players Championship last year that golf was shut down for three months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Players called their return to TPC Sawgrass surreal.

“Being back here, my rental house, same house I stayed in last year, driving there was a little weird,” Webb Simpson said. “Just thinking back about the announcement Thursday night last year and the panic with grocery stores and the whole world … It’s wild to me it’s been a year and a very tough, long year for a lot of people.”

Justin Thomas, who won this year’s tournament, recalled feeling emotional when he returned to the same rental house that he shares with Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth for the week.

“The last time I was up there, Rickie and I were sitting on this couch with his wife, and we’re trying to figure out what are we going to do, what’s going to happen, what’s going on,” Thomas said. “It definitely brought back some very odd, bizarre memories, but it is crazy to think it’s been a year. It’s crazy to think we’re still in it.”

Monahan also acknowledged that, noting his hope for a return to normalcy comes with caution.

“As gut wrenching as it was at the time for the tour, our players, our fans and our community, it goes without saying that what we experienced that day would pale in comparison to what our world would experience in the coming days, weeks and months,” he said.

As for the light at the end of the tunnel? That comes with the vaccine being accessible on a widespread basis, Monahan said.

“Until the pandemic is in our rearview mirror, our commitment to health and safety continues,” he said.

Part of the normalcy Monahan is looking for is having spectators back. There were just under 10,000 each day last week, and players were happy to see them.

But for some, it came with a giant asterisk.

“I want the fans out there. They’re part of the sport, and they’re part of the atmosphere, and I’m glad they’re out there because we’ve missed them,” Jon Rahm said. “But at the same time, I want everybody to be safe. I’ve known of too many people personally that have been affected by the virus, and I wouldn’t want anybody to go through that and lose loved ones because of it.”

Rahm understands all too well, revealing after winning the Memorial Tournament last summer that he had lost two family members to the virus.

Thomas said not having fans has been the biggest negative about playing the past nine months.

“Having fans and having the energy is something that I’ve missed so much,” he said. “I think it changes the golf tournament so much. The pressure, the nerves, everything that goes into it, it just really makes it different. It makes it better, I think. It gives the tournament the atmosphere, the buzz, the adrenaline. It’s just everything about it is so fun.”

Bryson DeChambeau agreed with that assessment.

“Winning in Detroit last year and then winning the U.S. Open, it was weird,” he said. “It was a weird feeling to win and not have fans there. Felt more like college events.”

Chip shots

— Marcus Mullins shot a 2-under 142 last weekend to win the SNGA Championship by three shots over Brett Sodetz. Mullins fired a 2-under 70 Saturday at Highland Falls and a par 72 Sunday at Palm Valley. Other winners were Greg Pyszko (Championship Net), Gary Carpendale (Senior Gross), Jeff Coppens (Senior Net), Steven Fink (Silver Gross) and John Kelley (Silver Net).

— The Southern Nevada Chapter PGA will host a four-person scramble April 3 at Coyote Springs Golf Club, with all proceeds benefiting the Southern Nevada Chapter PGA Hope, a program that introduces golf to veterans with disabilities. Entry is $125 per person or $500 per team. For registration information, visit coyotesprings.com.

— Alex Sparkhull beat John Flanagan 2 and 1 in the final to win the Legacy Men’s Club’s annual match-play championship. Ed Knott beat Greg Hogan in the consolation final.

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com.

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