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PGA’s Skins Game event will provide a different view of golf

Updated May 16, 2020 - 2:47 pm

Golf fans get their first opportunity Sunday at live golf with PGA Tour players since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport, but it’s not going to look like anything viewers are used to seeing.

Star power will be there with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson taking on Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in the Taylor Made Driving Relief Skins Game at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. (11 a.m. KSNV-3, Golf Channel). But that’s where the familiar ends.

Social distancing rules will bring a safe but strange look to the proceedings, starting with no caddies. Players will be carrying their own bags, something the pros haven’t done in ages. That’s except for Wolff, who schlepped his own bag as a college golfer a year ago.

FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2018, file photo, Dustin Johnson left, and Rory McIlroy shake hands on ...
FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2018, file photo, Dustin Johnson left, and Rory McIlroy shake hands on 16th green at the end of a fourball match on the opening day of the 42nd Ryder Cup in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France. Johnson and McIlroy headline a $3 million charity match for COVID-19 relief that will mark the first live golf on television since the pandemic shut down sports worldwide. The May 17 match will be played at Seminole Golf Club in South Florida. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

No caddies also means no help in yardages, so players will be using distance-measuring devices — a clear no-no in normal circumstances. There will be no spectators, no bunker rakes and a rules official will be the only one touching the flagsticks.

For viewers, the coverage will take on a different feel with Mike Tirico, Paul Azinger and Rich Lerner calling the action virtually.

How this all goes off is anybody’s guess, especially a skins game that makes its bread and butter with on-course banter and camaraderie. So forget about any high-fives or celebrating between teammates after good shots. Or post-match handshakes.

Lessons learned today will be noted for the next big event next weekend, when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are joined by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for another made-for-TV event which will undoubtedly draw many more viewers.

Both are teases to the actual start of PGA Tour full-field events, which begin June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, and continue weekly until early December, as long as the virus remains in check.

Tour officials last week outlined safety plans for the season in a 37-page memo to players. If all goes as hoped, the first four events will be played without spectators before finally opening the gates. That includes the Shriners Hospital Open at TPC Summerlin Oct. 5-11.

Key takeaways from the memo:

— All players, caddies and essential personnel will be tested at each event.

— Any player who tests positive will be withdrawn from the event and forced to self isolate for 10 days.

— Players, caddies and staff will be housed in a designated hotel to create a controlled environment. All will be required to remain at the hotel for meals.

— The Tour will charter a flight from tournament location to the next event each Monday to the first 170 players and caddies who sign up.

— Those who take different transportation or skipped the previous event will be tested before being allowed at the course. Pro-ams and other events associated with the tournament will not be held.

How these rules will impact the Las Vegas event are in question. It’s still five months away, and 19 other tournaments are ahead of it on the schedule. How the safety precautions measure up and how the virus reacts over that time period will dictate what happens in Las Vegas.

Chip Shots

— Leah Im, a freshman in the PGA Golf Management University Program at UNLV, was one of 10 students nationally awarded an $8,000 scholarship from PGA Works and PGA Reach. The awards are aimed at honoring students from diverse backgrounds pursuing PGA membership.

“We congratulate them for their academic success, and we’re delighted that they represent an exciting future for the game and our industry,” said PGA President Suzy Whaley.

— After losing nearly five months of tournaments to the coronavirus shutdown, the Champions Tour is combining the 2020 and 2021 seasons into a single season and points race. The tour is expected to return July 31 with the Ally Challenge.

— The LPGA Tour has cancelled the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, its first planned event since the shutdown. The Tour will now return July 23 at the Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio.

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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