CROMWELL, Conn. — They’ll play a golf tournament this week, beginning Thursday at TPC River Highlands, although there were moments on Wednesday when the world seemed to be spinning more rapidly than usual and it looked like the Travelers Championship might not go on.
Wednesday was not your typical day before a PGA Tour event at the Travelers, where four players withdrew as a result of COVID-19, adding to the Tuesday withdrawal of Cameron Champ, who tested positive for the virus.
None of the four players who withdrew Wednesday, however, actually tested positive for coronavirus.
Three of them — Graeme McDowell, Brooks Koepka and his brother Chase — withdrew because of caddies testing positive (McDowell’s and Brooks’). And the fourth, Webb Simpson, winner of the RBC Heritage Championship on Sunday, withdrew because a family member of his contracted the virus.
The news about Koepka, the No. 4 ranked player in the world and a four-time major champion, came shortly after McDowell withdrew when his caddie, Ken Comboy, tested positive for the virus.
Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, tested positive on Wednesday morning after having previously tested negative on Monday upon his arrival to the tournament. Elliott later told people he took another test on Wednesday and the result was negative — which PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan didn’t confirm nor deny.
Elliott and Comboy were together at a funeral for a mutual friend in Orlando, Fla., on June 15. Let the contact-tracing begin.
Both Koepka brothers, like McDowell, withdrew as a precaution since they had been so physically close to their respective caddies.
For Chase Koepka, who survived a five-for-two-spots Monday qualifier to get into the field, it had to be gut-wrenching decision to step away considering the huge opportunity this week would have been and the fact he only has limited status on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Perhaps one of the upcoming tournaments will offer him a sponsor’s exemption into the field to make up for the opportunity he’s relinquishing this week.
“I haven’t tested positive for COVID-19, but as I’ve said all along, I’m taking this very seriously,’’ Brooks Koepka said in a statement he posted on social media. “I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize the health of any player in the field this week or his ability to compete. The right thing to do right now is get home, support Ricky and feel confident that I’m doing what I can do protecting my fellow Tour members, my PGA Tour friends and everyone associated with the Travelers Championship this week.’’
Koepka said earlier in the day in an interview with Golfweek that he’d “rather be safe than sorry’’ and was pulling out “to protect everybody else.’’
Monahan made note that the Tour “had 2,757 total in-market tournament tests over three weeks with seven positives.’’
“It’s a low number on a percentage basis, but every number hurts,’’ Monahan said. “I think we all need to remind ourselves that we’re all learning to live with this virus. It’s pretty clear that this virus isn’t going anywhere.
“While we’ve been thorough in building and implementing a program that mitigates as much risk as possible, we knew it would be impossible to eliminate all risk, as evidenced by the three positive tests this week,’’ Monahan went on. “We need to use these developments as a stark reminder for everyone involved as we continue to learn from an operational standpoint.’’
Monahan was stern when he spoke of the importance of vigilance among the players, caddies and everyone else inside the tour’s “bubble.’’
“All of us have an extraordinary responsibility to follow those protocols,’’ he said. “For any individual that does not, there will be serious repercussions. I’m not going to get into the specifics of it, but everybody knows and needs to know that our future, our ability to sustain this business and to impact the communities where we play and to create so many jobs is contingent on our ability to follow those protocols.’’
Monahan, as he did two weeks ago after the Colonial, did not specify how many positive tests it would take to be considered an outbreak and cause the PGA Tour to pause its season again.
“We’re three weeks in — really, 2 ¹/₂ weeks in — and this has always been about a sustained return,’’ Monahan said. “I am very comfortable, very pleased, very confident in the health and safety program that we have, even though we’ve had positive tests. In this world, I think that that’s an expected outcome.
“We’ve learned a lot. We are continuing to refine. I sincerely feel like we are on the right path in that regard. We never said we were perfect.’’