Tour insists play to continue despite positive tests

The PGA Tour is adamant it will push ahead despite four-time Major winning Brooks Koepka joining Irishman Graeme McDowell in withdrawing from competition due to their respective caddies testing positive to COVID-19.

First it was Nick Watney testing positive ahead of last week’s second round of the RBC Heritage and then earlier this week Cameron Champ was also confirmed as having Coronavirus symptoms.

Jay Monahan PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan (Credit: PGA Tour)

McDowell then withdrew from this week’s Travelers Championship in Connecticut when long-time caddy, Ken Comboy tested positive.

Now Koepka’s withdrawn from the $7.4 million event after his long-time Irish-born caddy, Ricky Elliott was also confirmed as testing positive for the virus and Koepka’s younger brother, Chase, has also withdrawn but purely out of support for his brother.

PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan addressed the media on the eve of the event declaring the Tour will go ahead with this week’s event that has the approval of the Democratic Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.

“We have been working since March on a ‘health and safety’ plan that would be considered best practice among professional sports leagues,” said Monahan in revealing the Tour has conducted 2,757 tests over the past two weeks and the positive results make up just 0.025% of the overall figure.

“We have tried to avoid as much risk as possible but then we know it would be impossible to eliminate all risks as evident by the three positive tests this week.

“It is a low number, and it is a low number of withdrawals on a percentage basis but every number hurts and as we look at where we are now three events, and on the eve of the first round of the Travelers Championship, we all need to remind ourselves we are all learning to live with this virus, and we all need to learn to live with this virus both as individuals, as family members and within our businesses.”

“It’s pretty clear that this virus isn’t going anywhere. And so that’s why I go back to the weeks that preceded our return; the amount of work that we spend to develop our health, safety and testing protocols, to he had wait our players and constituents on them, to be here at this point in time, you know, we are excited to get into the Travelers Championship this week.”

“We are playing in two markets today. We’ve had three positive tests this week. I think everybody should expect that you’re going to have more tests as we go forward and we are going to be very sensitive to the specifics of every single test. But going to be spending a ton of time making sure we reinforce the strong protocols we have.”

“There are kind of scenarios that will be play out and if we do have positive cases we will deal with as we are shown to be doing now and will continue to do”.

The World No. 4 ranked Koepka is also seemingly far from happy that Elliott left the ‘bubble’ to join McDowell, Koepka’s coach Claude Harmon III and Comboy to attend a memorial service on Monday (June 15th) following the Texas event.

“I’ve told everybody on my team they’re pretty much on lockdown,” Koepka said.

“If they don’t want to do that, then they don’t have to be with us. It’s pretty simple. I told Claude, I’ve got my chef that’s travelling with me, and I brought basically my own gym — I brought free weights, bands. Everything you see in a gym, we’ve brought.”

“There’s no reason that anybody should leave the house. The chef obviously leaves the house to go get food, but that’s about it. But she’s still using the best face mask, everything she can when she gets back, washing her hands, doing all these things, and just trying to limit our exposure.”

McDowell and Comboy had shared a hotel room in Texas and also in Hilton Head but after McDowell missed the cut, Comboy chose not to travel directly to Connecticut so he drove back to Orlando to take another test and he received a positive result just prior his intended flight to Hartford in Connecticut.

McDowell indicated he was feeling a little fatigued at the end of last week, which he wrote off to having not competed in a tournament for three months and then playing two straight weeks.

“I had been feeling a little off colour, but not with alarm bells ringing until Kenny failed,” he said.

After finding a stand-in caddy, McDowell played a practice round Tuesday on the host TPC River Highlands course with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry and Koepka.

“The problem is, people are out here passing tests when they could still have the virus,” said McDowell.

“That’s what we’re learning. Ricky passed a test on Monday and he failed the next morning.”

McDowell said he would take two weeks off and hoped to return in July for the first of two weeks in Ohio. But that depends on if the PGA Tour is still going on.

“Do we shut down, start up in a month’s time, two months’ time? You come back and what’s changed,” McDowell said. “I think the tour is doing a pretty good job. It’s just so difficult to control everybody outside the gates.”

“We have to get through to the other side of this.”

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy will play the opening two rounds of the Travelers in the company of Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau.

And McIlroy will be looking to restore some lost pride after DeChambeau easily out-played him on the final day of last fortnight’s Tour stop in Ft. Worth.

The bulked-up American shot a final day 66 to miss out by a shot in forcing his way into a play-off while McIlroy struggled with a 72 to finish T32.