Coronavirus Outbreak: Nick Watney’s positive test puts PGA Tour's COVID-19 preparations under the radar

Before restarting competitive golf without fans, the PGA Tour seemed to have excellently laid out plans. But then came Watney’s positive test and that raised questions all around and now poses a challenge even bigger than it did before re-starting.

V Krishnaswamy June 20, 2020 20:02:24 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: Nick Watney’s positive test puts PGA Tour's COVID-19 preparations under the radar

The euphoria of a successful comeback had hardly died down, when the PGA Tour’s worst fears became a reality – a player, Nick Watney, tested positive and that in turn has a raised a lot of questions.

Before restarting competitive golf without fans, the PGA Tour seemed to have excellently laid out plans. But then came Watney’s positive test and that raised questions all around and now poses a challenge even bigger than it did before re-starting.

When did Watney inform the organisers? Was he tested at the hotel or the course? Clearly he was awaiting the results when he came to the course. After some initial confusion, it was confirmed that as per protocols Watney was indeed allowed to be on the course as he waited for the results. Was that right? Since those were the protocols, Watney cannot be faulted.

Brooks Koepka has revealed he stood near Watney in the parking lot; Si Woo Kim said he passed Watney at the driving range and Rory McIlroy confirmed briefly chatted with him at the putting green but maintained distance.

So clearly, one thing that needs to change immediately is that the Tour will need to alter the protocol of allowing the players on to the course and other facilities before the result is known. It will be safer if the players are held back in a holding area till the results are known.

Coronavirus Outbreak Nick Watneys positive test puts PGA Tours COVID19 preparations under the radar

File image of Nick Watney. AP

More so, since Watney had indicated some symptoms associated with COVID-19. He was administered a full test, which turned out positive. The sequence of events, however, is still somewhat hazy.

The PGA Tour has devised a system of allowing players to travel in a charter engaged by the Tour, but it also allows players to travel on commercial flights but many players like defending champion, CT Pan have begun using the big Recreational Vehicles, which have become their ‘home on the road’. Watney, however, travelled privately but tested negative on arrival.

So will this mean all players will need to travel by the charters, which could cost more — and may be expensive for players who are not the big earners. Will the Tour subsidise the costs?

Koepka has travelled with a chef and even a private gym while staying in a private residence each week. He said he’s “got everybody on lockdown” and hasn’t had to leave either house since he got to Fort Worth, Texas, last week.

McIlroy and his caddie Harry Diamond are staying together as are many other players in a similar manner.

Watney sent a text to McIlroy hoping they had not got too close. McIlroy also said they were at a distance and said he (Watney) felt bad he was at the course. McIlroy also said he appreciated the text and feels bad for Watney.

Meanwhile, the Tour will take some comfort in that the World No 1 player still feels “very safe” with the PGA Tour protocols that include frequent testing and the charter flights between tournaments.

Interestingly, Vaughn Taylor and Luke List, who were Watney’s partners in the first round at RBC Heritage, got the news of the positive test only at the midway point. When Watney did not tee up alongside them, they assumed he was injured or unable to carry on, something that often happens on the Tour. However, when Taylor and List made the turn, a Tour official informed them that Watney had withdrawn because of the positive test.

For the present, Watney will be isolation and the Tour would have started keeping an eye on those who may have come in close contact.

The PGA Tour has assured full support throughout his self-isolation and recovery period under CDC guidelines. Both Taylor and List have wished him the best and asked him to focus on his recovery.

Taylor and List are to be tested again and their caddies, too, would be tested. The duo admitted to being stunned and became nervous, as is to be expected. Taylor shot 67-69 and made the cut in tied-28th place while List, who won the Korn Ferry Challenge last week and made the field here, missed it with 69-73. Watney had shot 74 on first day.

“I was a little shocked,” Taylor was quoted as saying. “Heart started racing, got a little nervous. Just hope Nick's doing well and we get through this.” He confirmed that they had kept distance while playing first round and did not shake hands and maintained all protocols.

Coronavirus Outbreak Nick Watneys positive test puts PGA Tours COVID19 preparations under the radar

File image of Nick Watney. AP

Taylor and List are both entered for the Travelers Championship but must need to test negative.

The first challenge for the Tour to devise a way to re-start the Tour while putting in place plan for any eventuality. They did that well. For a week it was all hunky-dory. And now the positive test on Watney has changed it all. The real challenge comes now.

Who is Nick Watney?

Nick Watney, 39, is currently ranked 229th in the world. He was in the Top-10 in mid-2011. The years 2011 and 2012 were his best – he won the WGC-Cadillac and the AT&T National in 2011 and in 2012 he won the Barclays, first of the four FedExCup play-offs. Later that he year he won the CIMB Classic, specially co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour, a year before it became a part of the PGA Tour’s Fall Season calendar. That was Watney’s last win.

He dropped out of Top-50 after the 2014 Masters, and then suffered a herniated disc and played only four times. He dropped to as low as 530-plus in 2017 before he started moving up again with three Top-10s in 2019, including at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He also played the President’s Cup in 2011.

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