By Steve Keating
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – The PGA Tour took its cue from Disneyland in deciding to cancel the Players Championship in Florida due to the coronavirus outbreak, commissioner Jay Monahan said on Friday, capping a chaotic and confusing 24 hours for the Tour’s flagship event.
Disneyland’s decision to close its theme parks, including one in nearby Orlando, coupled with the worries of international golfers in the face of U.S. travel restrictions, pushed Monahan to scrap the tournament late on Thursday after the first round had been played.
“When you have two theme parks located between Jacksonville and Tampa cancel, to me that really was the final thing that we had heard that said, you know what, even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we’ve done all the right things, we can’t proceed,” said Monahan.
“Those two things together were really the things that drove the decision.”
The PGA Tour had previously said it would push on in the face of mounting criticism as a series of sporting events and competitions were canceled or postponed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Monahan announced at his opening news conference on Tuesday that the Tour was comfortable playing its ‘Super Bowl’ as scheduled, with fans welcome at TPC Sawgrass.
Midway through Thursday’s first round, however, he called a hasty news conference saying the tournament would go ahead, but the final three rounds would be played without spectators.
Later that evening, the PGA Tour announced that the Players and all tournaments until April 5 had been canceled.
Monahan emphasized that the PGA Tour had been in constant contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials.
He also noted he had spoken with both President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who were supportive of the precautionary measures put in place banning spectators.
“Anytime you make a change to a decision that you originally made, there’s an element of maybe we could have done that earlier,” said Monahan.
“For me I’m very comfortable that we made the right decision at the right time — or made the right decisions at the right time over the course of the week.”
Even though the tournament was canceled, the golfers will still get paid, with 50% of the $15 million purse split equally among the 143-player field that took part in the opening round.
Yet when their next pay cheque will arrive remains uncertain.
With all tournaments through the Texas Valero Open (April 2-5) canceled and Augusta National on Friday announcing the postponement of the Masters, the next event on the schedule is the RBC Heritage (April 16-19) in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
“Our goal now is to focus on a plan for the near and long-term,” said Monahan. “We’re going to continue to go forward with the schedule that we’ve outlined and hopefully we can get back and play as soon as possible.
“We’re not playing through the Valero Texas Open, it can happen in the weeks that follow.
“That’s all I know at this point in time.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)