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How PGA Tour should handle increase in coronavirus cases

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CROMWELL, Conn. — The PGA Tour will play on this week at the Travelers Championship. The plan is to do so next week in Detroit and then in the weeks after that.

As it should.

When news of positive COVID-19 tests and prominent players withdrawing from the tournament began to break all around TPC River Highlands on Wednesday, social media alarmists emerged from all over the globe.

Cancel the Travelers. Suspend the PGA Tour season.

Those were the prevailing hot takes in the immediate wake of the news.

With all respect for (not to mention a healthy fear of) the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, a tap of the brakes and a reality check all were needed. Not panic.

Was there a spike in positive tests the past two days at the Travelers, which has lost five players — including Brooks Koepka, whose caddie Ricky Elliott tested positive — to withdrawals?

Sure, there was.

Should the fact that two caddies and one player tested positive this week be reason to believe there’s a COVID-19 outbreak on the PGA Tour?

No.

In the three weeks since the PGA Tour restarted its season, it has conducted 2,757 total “in-market tournament tests’’ with only seven of them turning up positive, according to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

That’s a very low percentage. If anything, it’s surprising that so few have tested positive so far in three events. So, what has transpired this week, based on the numbers, shouldn’t be surprising. It should instead serve as a wake-up call for players and caddies to observe the safety protocols with even more diligence and detail than they did the first couple of weeks.

“We need to learn to live with this virus,’’ Monahan said Wednesday. “This virus isn’t going anywhere. You’re going to have more [positive] tests going forward.’’

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan
PGA Tour commissioner Jay MonahanGetty Images

Charley Hoffman, who serves as the chairman of the 16-member PGA Tour players advisory council, said it best Wednesday when he told the Golf Channel, “We’re not invincible,’’ adding, “The first week, we got a false sense of security.’’

“We’re taking this very seriously. If we want to keep playing golf, we’ve got to figure out what we have to do keep away from [the virus].’’

Justin Thomas, a member of the PAC board, said, “Everyone needs to do their job. It’s a big-picture thing, and you need to do not only what’s best for you but most importantly what’s best for the tour, because one mistake that someone makes could end up ruining other guys or potentially suspending the tour again.’’

The Koepka-Elliott case is a glaring example of how random it is to contract the virus, because it can be argued that perhaps no player has been more cautious about keeping the virus out of his small circle. Koepka has been staying at private homes with his girlfriend, caddie and a private chef and been borderline militant about keeping the circle tight.

“I’ve told everybody on my team they’re pretty much on lockdown,’’ Koepka said Tuesday. “There’s no reason that anybody should leave the house. [We’re] just trying to limit our exposure. I’m taking this seriously.I don’t really feel like doing much, just hanging around my team.’’

Now his team has been infected — in spite of his own strict personal bubble.

Koepka on Tuesday expressed little surprise that there were some positive COVID tests popping up when he said, “The odds are not with us that somebody wasn’t going to test positive.’’

A day later, as he, his brother and caddie flew back home to Florida, his words proving hauntingly prophetic.

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