After a positive test, where does the PGA Tour go from here?

The concern came to fruition on Friday at Hilton Head, a PGA tour player who tested positive for COVID-19 during the tournament game and forced his withdrawal from the event. In itself, the news was not a shock; the tour planned for it. It had to happen: with 300 players and caddies competing against each other in a certain week, it had to happen. But when it happened, just 12 days and two tournaments after the tour's return and how it happened, with Nick Watney on the course while waiting for his results, drew attention to a plan that was already under close scrutiny .
After completing RBC Heritage on Sunday, Watney remains the only PGA tour player to test positive. 11 people who came into contact with Watney tested negative on Saturday after the subsequent COVID-19 evaluations (more on that in a moment). As alarming as these times may be, anyone who claims that Watney's positive test is a disaster is accidentally or not a prisoner of fear. While the overall question remains the same - can the tour do this? -, now precedes another one:
Where does the tour go from here after a positive test?
It is not a query that provides a clear answer. After talking to tour and tournament officials, players, caddies and an epidemiologist, the reaction is not as ambiguous as it may seem.
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Is golf still considered a safe sport?
A positive test at a tournament requires a reassessment of all aspects of the tour, starting with the basic safety of the game of golf. According to Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, the answer remains yes.
"It is very, very unlikely that [Watney COVID-19 catches] happened on the golf course," said Dr. Adalja. "We continue to learn more about this virus every day, but we know that outdoor transmission is much less likely than other activities."
The low probability leads to occasional violations of social distancing, such as players and caddies, which affect clubs and groups that gather on the practice green. This does not mean that the virus cannot be transmitted on the golf course, said Dr. Adalja. Only that the meaningful detective work should start with where Watney was and who he was with.
"This is about contact tracking, that's the key," said Dr. Adalja.
Watney had played and missed the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge before traveling to Hilton Head with a private plan.
Photo by: Ben Jared
Ben Jared
Watney, who has now been self-isolated for at least 10 days pending follow-up testing, according to the tour's security log, has not publicly commented on his positive test or whereabouts the days before, but Sergio Garcia confirmed that he gave Watney a ride with his private plane from Texas (both live in Austin) to South Carolina. Garcia has not tested positive yet, but this transport brings its own point ...
Does the tour have to rethink their bladder?
Well, the tour never had a “bubble” per se. Traveling the country rather than choosing a de facto base for operations (as the NBA does with Disney World) has destroyed that notion. Charter planes are convenient and safe options - players and caddies can only drive after a negative test - but players and caddies also make separate air, be it commercial or private, and ground agreements. While there are designated host hotels, players can stay elsewhere. Despite the low probability of external transmission and strict surveillance on the tournament site, the tour ecosystem begins and ends on the golf course. Outside of these limits, the honor system essentially meets the real world.
In this sense, it is also important where the tournaments take place. South Carolina and Texas are two current corona virus hotspots in the U.S., and as Justin Thomas noted on Saturday, Hilton Head seemed to be acting as if the pandemic was over. By Sunday, 22 states had a 14-day increase in cases, and the country's new daily cases on Friday and Saturday exceeded 30,000, most in six weeks. (Daily deaths are slowly decreasing.)
Now any direct correlation with the island's laissez faire attitude and Watney's test is a false equivalence. However, Thomas' comments underline how little of it is under the jurisdiction and control of the tour. And this truth is perhaps the hardest swallow and the greatest obstacle to the future.
"There is an active community spread. Athletes are not immune," said Dr. Adalja. "These blisters are not hermetically sealed, and as I said, there is no blister in the case of the PGA Tour."
Still, Watney's positive didn't trigger a massive overhaul of the health and safety plan from the tour.
Sources with detailed knowledge of the subject tell Golf Digest that although the tour will continue to improve and refine its protocols, it will continue to trust the guidelines that have been established. Similarly, with the Travelers Championship, which is next on the tour schedule, said the tournament did not deviate from its blueprint based on Watney's test.
According to sources, an update will likely be sent to the tour participants on Monday or Tuesday, but this mainly reminds of the protocols and the need to maintain socially distancing practices. The plan remains unchanged for the time being.
RELATED: 5 takeaways from the finals in Harbor Town
Do players and caddies trust the security protocols?
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - JUNE 21: Brooks Koepka of the United States plays his shot from the 11th tee during the final round of RBC's legacy on June 21, 2020 at Harbor Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
Photo by: Kevin C. Cox
Kevin C. Cox
The players are not shy when it comes to expressing their complaints about the tour and their brass instruments. But publicly and privately, Watney's positive test didn't shake players' trust in the tour system.
"I feel very safe. I wouldn't play if I didn't play, ”said Thomas on Saturday. "The tour made all the logs they can."
Thomas was joined by two other megastars in Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, both of whom maintained their support.
"Yes, when I do the things I am supposed to do and I am on the tournament site, I feel very safe, yes," said McIlroy. Koepka added: "We do what we can, in terms of players, the tour - everyone does what they can to make it safe for us, for everyone."
Not to say that players don't know what's on hand. Webb Simpson, who later won Harbor Town on Sunday, even called the first positive test a wake-up call.
"Yes, it definitely made me think about everything I did this week," said Simpson. "I tried to be really careful, but I could probably be more careful. I didn't really go out for dinner. I was given something to take away every night. But when it comes to wearing the mask, I always think it's wise if I do I am outside my comfort zone outside the golf course.
"And really, the six-foot rule that I was good at, but I could probably be better."
Overall, however, the players stay with the company line. Golf Digest polled more than 20 players and caddies for news about Watney's test and subsequent WD. Only a handful wavered in their confidence in the measures taken.
"If we hadn't had a positive test, [the media] would have said we would have hidden something," an experienced player told Golf Digest. "If you look at how many people we have tested and how often we have been tested, [the positive test] shows that we are doing it right."
This belief, which is represented by several players, is not necessarily wrong. The PGA Tour conducted nearly 1,600 golf return tests at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth and the Korn Ferry Challenge at the Tour Center in Ponte Vedra Beach. Almost 900 tests were carried out at tournament locations. In week 1, only one Korn Ferry Tour player and three KFT caddies tested positive. This week, more than 770 tests were performed on both tours before the tournament game, with two KFT caddies testing positive.
"This [positive test] is not a blow," said another tour player. "We did our part to stay vigilant."
A quarter of the respondents were at a loss as to why Watney participated in the course or why the tour had Watney come to the course with an upcoming test. Conversely, Watney's welfare was her primary concern, and no one blamed him for his outcome. How the positive result came about is another matter.
RELATED: Has a Fitness Trainer Provided the Key to Coronavirus Diagnosis?
Is there a bug in the tour monitoring?
(Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP via Getty Images)
Again, Watney did not publicly speak about his positive test, but according to McIlroy, it was a fitness tracker that told Watney that his breathing rate had increased, a possible sign of COVID-19 infection. A source near Watney confirmed to Golf Digest that the tracker's data triggered a new test.
This is problematic because Watney tested negative earlier in the week and would not have been tested again according to the tour's guidelines unless he had provided a sample for the charter flight (which he had not used when traveling from Colonial to Harbor Town) . You can go crazy with theories, but without the fitness tracker, Watney would have been able to keep going until he passed his arrival test when he came to the travelers early next week.
The measures of the positive test are also possible.
After announcing Watney's results, the tour announced: "For the health and well-being of everyone associated with the tournament and members of the community, the tour has begun to implement their response plan in consultation with medical experts, including working with those who could have had close contact with Nick. "The tour later confirmed that 11 tests were conducted on Friday near Watney," with all 11 tests being negative, "a tour spokesman told Golf Digest on Saturday.
Preliminary research shows, however, that if someone is tested too early a day after a possible exposure, their viral load may be below the detection threshold, leading to a negative result.
"You wouldn't realize that someone is positive so quickly," said Dr. Adalja. “We often wait several days. We monitor them, even those who are asymptomatic. Testing the day, even a day after, of contact would not result in a positive test. "
It is questionable whether, despite almost 2,400 corona virus tests, more is needed for proper monitoring. (Of course, the result: wait too long and the virus load may also be too low to register.)
There, those who have come into contact with Watney are monitored. Dr. Adalja says ideally anyone who came into contact with Watney would want to isolate them for 14 days. Of course, that didn't happen: Vaughn Taylor, one of Watney's play partners on Thursday, did the cut and played on the weekend.
"Ideal" is the operative word above. Security is paramount; Is it fair to let someone withdraw from at least two events in the same breath because they "may" have contracted the virus, especially if they ultimately don't have COVID-19?
"I understand that they believe they are adhering to the logs, but interrupting the security logs can undo them all," says Dr. Adalja.
Although the tour officials claim that this will not change their mind about testing for the coming week, they haven't ruled out additional safety precautions. Expect an area to be addressed: This will prevent a scenario like Watney's in which a player is waiting for results to recur.
"We will do everything we can to safely run a tournament and to ensure that our players feel safe," an official told Golf Digest.
What is a critical mass?
This was one of the most important questions that have remained unanswered since the tour's health and safety protocols were originally announced. As this weekend showed, a single positive test does not suspend a tournament. During a May conference call on the minutes, Andy Levinson, senior vice president of tournament management, said there are no specific number of positive tests on the tour that would result in a cancellation.
As the PGA tour for the Travelers Championship continues to Cromwell, Connecticut, there is hope that players and caddies will protect themselves from the spread of the Virvus.
Photo by: Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen
As the PGA tour for the Travelers Championship continues to Cromwell, Connecticut, there is hope that players and caddies will protect themselves from the spread of the Virvus.
"You know, if there is a positive test, contact tracking must take place, which is why social distancing ... is one of the many reasons why social distancing is so important," said Levinson. "So we didn't identify a specific number, but if it were a large number, we would of course have to assess the situation."
Tour sources indicate that Golf Digest Levinson's words remain true.
"There is no touchstone for when we will say" That's it ", said a tour official. "There is a scenario where the number is low, but we believe that the environment has changed so much that we can no longer safely accommodate players, volunteers and broadcast partners." But we don't see it [at Hilton Head] and hear positive reports from our Travelers Championship team. "
If there is an important lesson from Watney's positive test, the tour preaches calmly, the players remain committed, and the courses are safe. However, the critical mass issue will likely become an issue in the coming weeks. There is a possibility that Watney is an isolated case, but there are more and more indications that indicate otherwise.
“This will only be the deal with someone who is constantly doing professional sports. You have seen it with MLB and NCAA outbreaks in the past few days, ”said Dr. Adalja. "This is something that will be the norm."
The tour proclaimed a successful first step on their tightrope walk in Colonial. The show continues to TPC River Highlands and hopefully to Detroit and Columbus. But it's fair to say the rope shook in Harbor Town.

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