SEPTEMBER 4 ― Come Tuesday morning (Asian time), a new FedExCup champion will be crowned and win the PGA Tour’s ultimate prize. Whether it’ll be Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Sungjae Im or Hideki Matsuyama hoisting the prized trophy, the eventual winner emerging from this unprecedented season in sport will very much be the game of golf itself.
The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta will showcase the finest 30 golfers at the fabled venue, home to the legendary Bobby Jones and a worthy winner will be celebrated as the curtains come down on an extraordinary 2019-20 season many thought would not reach the finish line.
For the Tour’s bandwagon to arrive at this climatic point, it has required countless hours of toil, meticulous preparation and planning, contingency plans and close collaboration with health experts to mitigate a global Covid-19 pandemic which forcefully shut the sporting world down in March.
“When you commit to a plan, you commit to a plan because you believe in your heart and you believe based on all the quality people that we have around the table and input we're getting that it's a plan that can sustain us. I was confident that we had the right plan, but I was uncertain as to whether or not, like everybody else, you'd be able to get to this point,” Jay Monahan, PGA Tour Commissioner, said this week.
By the time the first tee shot is struck at East Lake, 176 days would have elapsed since the Tour cancelled The Players Championship and suspended its season. The early days and weeks of the shutdown were unsettling for Monahan but with the Tour’s machinery in full operation mode, a Return to Golf plan was put in motion and some 13 weeks later, tournament golf returned under a stringent Health and Safety Plan with the well-being of players and everyone associated with the Tour being No. 1 priority.
There were grave concerns when several players tested positive for Covid-19 in the early weeks but since August, there have been no more positive tests. The Tour, though, is not letting its guard down and golf’s successful return has also seen the PGA Tour becoming a model of best practices for other sports leagues.
What has been of equal importance to the Tour’s Return to Golf was the fact that charitable efforts were also quickly revived. Impacting communities and the lives of the less privileged where the Tour holds its tournaments holds great importance as it is part of the organisation’s DNA.
Monahan said: “As gut wrenching as that day and the weeks to follow were, as we ultimately cancelled or postponed nearly 30 per cent of our season, the adaptability, innovation, and collaboration that has brought us to this week is incredibly gratifying. It's humbling to think about what has been accomplished with our successful return. It hasn't been perfect, and we're not claiming victory by any stretch. In fact, we continue to learn and adapt.”
Professional sports will continue to be adapted under a new normal and the Tour will gradually re-introduce elements around golf tournaments that make the game special. “We will continue our adaptive work through the fall and into 2021 as we look toward reintroducing pro-ams, corporate partner activations, and spectators when we feel it is safe to do so,” he said.
One of the key highlights since the Return to Golf was the introduction of a 9-hole Wednesday Charity Challenge where millions of dollars have since been raised. This week, the Tour Championship’s two proud partners, Coca-Cola and South Company, will also continue its support of four local charitable organisations in Atlanta. “I'm proud to announce that despite a myriad of challenges the event has faced in 2020 ― no spectators, no corporate hospitality, no pro-am experiences ― the Tour Championship is projected to match or exceed last year's record charitable impact of US$3.5 million (RM14.5 million). I think for us, you look at the support we've had from our title sponsors, from our tournament organisations, the fact that our players have generated over US$35 million for Covid-19 related charities,” said Monahan.
LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan expressed his appreciation to the Monahan’s leadership in navigating the coronavirus challenges. He tweeted on Wednesday: “To Commissioner Monahan and the leadership team at @PGATOUR - THANK YOU (!!) for leading us, for sharing with us, and for pushing us. Proud of you and for you.”
The players are also thankful to be competing again after enduring three months of inactivity. Spaniard Jon Rahm, who is chasing his first FedExCup title, said: “I think it's a testament to everybody involved in the events, everyone on the PGA Tour for supplying everything we need to make sure we're not putting ourselves at risk. I think for us, you look at the support we've had from our title sponsors, from our tournament organisations, the fact that our players have generated over US$35 million for Covid-related charities.”
Xander Schauffele, winner of the Tour Championship in 2017, added: “In all honesty, not really surprised that we're here. I think our commissioner, Jay Monahan, the whole PGA TOUR staff, I think the Tour does a lot of really good work. I think we're all very blessed and all the players are just happy to compete.”
So when the final putt drops early Tuesday morning (Asian time), one player will emerge as the 2020 FedExCup champion. But ultimately, the game itself will have also triumphed in a season mired with an unexpected and invincible threat. Monahan knows it is not time for a victory lap as he continues to keep his sleeves rolled up in the fight to ensure the PGA Tour continues to hold tournaments for its membership, inspire fans and viewers and deliver charitable impact in local communities.
* Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director, communications of the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.
** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.