IRISH NEWS

Golf shutdown - Irish on tour

Calum Atkinson

Golf, like everything else, has been brought to a halt by the spread of the coronavirus. 

This becomes a crystal clear reality when you visit the Masters website. The page reads, “respecting the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community, the 2020 Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals have been postponed.”

The tournament that has brought fans so many memories and so much joy over the years will not go ahead this year, on schedule at least. “We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date, Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National said. However, with the scale of the crisis it may be difficult to play the event at all.

Last week, the PGA Tour abruptly cancelled The Players Championship after the first round. The cancellation of a further three tour events was then announced due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The European Tour has also been forced to cancel or postpone seven upcoming events due to the ongoing situation. 

“As important as golf is to all of us, public health and well-being is the absolute priority. That will remain the case as we continue to monitor this rapidly evolving global pandemic over the coming weeks, working with the World Health Organisation and each national Government and their public health agencies to ensure we have the latest advice to inform all our decision making,” European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley said.

Tiger Woods echoed similar sentiments on Twitter. "There are a lot more important things in life than a golf tournament right now. We need to be safe, smart and do what is best for ourselves, our loved ones and our community," he said.

These steps undoubtedly had to be taken in the interest of public health but they have had a massive impact on so many in the game. All tours and players face uncertainty and have little idea of when things may return to normal.

From an Irish perspective, the GUI and ILGU issued a joint statement addressing the Covid-19 situation that contained guidance for clubs and players on how to mitigate risk. It is also unclear if many of the bigger amateur championships will be able to take place this year.  

In the professional ranks, we don’t have to look any further than the world number one to see the disruption that has been caused.

Rory Mcilroy has been in remarkably consistent form, posting seven straight top-5 finishes that have seen him retake top spot in the world rankings. The county Down native’s form would’ve likely made him the favourite going into the Masters. This is a tournament with added significance for Mcilroy as he needs it to complete the career grand slam.

To his credit, Mcilroy has welcomed the decision to cancel tournaments even though it disrupts his purple patch of form. “It's the right decision, of course it's the right decision," he said. "If in a few weeks' time, this all dies down and everything is actually okay, it's still the right decision," McIlroy added.

Without this crisis, Shane Lowry would’ve been going to the Masters in a few weeks with all eyes on him as the winner of the last major championship to take place. This victory was of course, his stunning Open Championship victory at Portrush in July 2019.

Lowry has been in solid form this season and would’ve relished going to Augusta as the reigning Open champion. “Already missing tournament golf,” the Offaly man said but he also acknowledged the right decision had been made.

 

Graeme McDowell was on top of the world in February after winning in Saudi Arabia, a victory that saw him move back inside the top-50 in the world for the first time since 2015. This would've seen him qualify to play at WGC events and majors but this current hiatus is denying him that chance, for now at least.

McDowell is also in serious contention of making the European Ryder Cup team, another process that is deeply impacted by this crisis. The uncertainty will be a major headache for another Irishman, European captain Pádraig Harrington.

Harrington has been planning meticulously for the contest at Whistling Straits, which is currently scheduled for the end of September. But, how many events will be played between now and then for players to amass qualification points to make the team? Will the event go ahead as planned? Big questions that it is difficult to know the answers to.

This period of uncertainty will be even more challenging for the more inexperienced Irish players. Cormac Sharvin is trying to make his way in his first full year on the European tour. Gavin Moynihan is trying to regain his European tour status on the Challenge tour and Paul Dunne is still sidelined with a wrist injury.

This pandemic is disrupting all the Irish players on tour in different ways and no end to the uncertainty appears in sight.

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