FORT WORTH, Texas >> The PGA Tour doesn’t just pick up where it left off.
Very little about the Charles Schwab Challenge in Colonial resembles the opening round of The Players Championship on March 12, the last professional wave played before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the wave and almost everything else.
Players return to a new set of rules, starting with mandatory tests for the coronavirus when they first arrive and having their temperatures measured before they can go to the parking lot.
The tour said all 487 tests from players, caddies and essential personnel were negative.
On the course, players should make every effort to practice social distance and ‘show golf best practice to our fans watching the broadcast’.
Good thing Wednesday’s activity was not shown on TV.
Players and caddies exchanged clubs (players should handle the clubs themselves). Caddies did not wipe the flagpole or bunker rakes after use. Social distance felt more like a guideline.
It was just like normal in a return that should be anything but that.
“It will be very easy to fall back into old ways because it is exactly what we did,” Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday. “I’d say for the viewers to give the players and caddies a little wiggle room if they see something on TV that’s not quite right. We also need to figure it out as we go along.”
Equally worrying is what they do outside the golf course, even with a designated hotel. Some reside in houses. Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner have their own chef.
The most obvious difference is that there are no spectators on the track, making it look colonial the way it does for members, except for ropes along the fairway to give carts and mowers some guidance on where to ride.
Another difference is probably the number of people who watch at home.
Golf is only the second major sport to return to the United States (motorsport is back in action) and a field with McIlroy, Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka is attractive.
There is also the underlying responsibility to demonstrate that returning was the right move at this time and that golf can live up to its reputation as one of the safer sports.
“I think this week is very important because golf will become the center of the sports world, which is usually a few weeks a year,” said McIlroy. “But to show people something on TV that they don’t know the outcome of, I think it will be fun for them. So I think it will be a good thing.”
“And I think it’s an important week, because golf can show that we can play socially aloof,” he said. “We can hold a tournament and adhere to all safety protocols that have been established.”
Koepka didn’t apologize for working with caddy Ricky Elliott as he always does, especially since his caddy is staying with him this week and both have been tested.
“You are watching another sport. I am pretty sure LeBron James will not worry about choosing a choice. Football, you won’t worry about tackling a man because of social distance, ”said Koepka.
But he recognized the importance of getting through this week without incident so that golf can continue until shortly before Christmas.
“I think it’s important to make sure we go through all of these things because I want to play,” said Koepka. “I know everyone wants to play here, I know the fans want to see us play, so we have to take all those protocols seriously if we really want to be here the rest of the year.”
And then there is the matter of birdies and bogeys.
McIlroy and Thomas are among those who have never played colonial. Rahm has a mathematical chance to replace McIlroy at number 1 in the world. Koepka has not been the same since his knee injury late last year, and he believes the break has done him a world of good. Jordan Spieth can only hope that the same applies to him.
They all want to return, even in silence.
Rickie Fowler hit a wedge up to 4 feet on the seventh hole during a practice round and a passerby shouted, “Good shot. That’s the amount of feedback for this week. ‘
Elite players hardly ever go that long without serious competition, except when injured, and while many have played at home in Florida or Texas or Arizona, it’s almost impossible to replicate the real thing.
It will be real on Thursday, even without fans, even if it doesn’t look like March.