Eight questions raised by the new 2020 golf schedule as majors shuffled to end of year

On Monday, golf’s governing bodies announced what the rest of the 2020 calendar year is supposed to look like for their sport, and with that we got some answers to a lot of our questions. The PGA Championship will be played in August. The U.S. Open will be in September the week before the Ryder Cup. There will be no Open Championship. Only a few PGA Tour events are expected to be played. And the big one: The Masters will take place in November at Augusta National.

However, even though this news seemingly satiated our ever-growing hunger for information — literally any information at all — about this sport, it also raised several more questions (albeit smaller ones) about just how all of this is going to play out. 

Here are a few of those.

1. How does this blow up the PGA Tour and FedEx Cup fall schedule? Golf — of all the sports — has an unbelievably structured cadence. To simply toss a handful of majors into the fall portion of the calendar (U.S. Open and Masters) after the 2019-20 FedEx Cup Playoffs begs two questions. First, whether a 2020-21 PGA Tour season will start at all before January 2021. Second, whether points from the September and November majors will be applied to the 2019-20 season retroactively (this seems impossible?) or simply tacked onto the 2020-21 season (even if it hasn’t started). 

Normally, the new PGA Tour season would start in September or October, which I suppose could still happen, and in that case you would be sprinkling fall events (which are usually lower tier) between arguably the two biggest golf events of any given year. All of it is going to be bizarre and unlike anything we’ve ever experienced (although nobody will be complaining as long as we get a U.S. Open and Masters!).

2. Spectator-free events? One topic that wasn’t addressed on Monday is whether fans will be allowed in at any of these tournaments. It’s hard to envision that scenario, right? Because unless there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus by the time golf starts back up again, aren’t you in a similar position you were in when the Players Championship was canceled in March? That’s the circular argument I keep coming back to.

3. What if you can play in September but not August? That’s not an unreasonable question. What if the PGA Championship gets canned in the middle of August, but the U.S. Open is good to go at the end of September? You could probably play the PGA Championship between the Ryder Cup (end of September) and Masters (beginning of November), but I do wonder what kind of contingency plan is in the works for that scenario. It would be odd to only play two of the three U.S. majors (not that any of this represents any kind of normalcy).

4. What if a player (or caddie) gets COVID-19? This one is tangentially related to No. 2, but if crowds are barred and a player still gets the virus, you have to shut the whole thing down all over again, right? That’s been maybe the most frustrating part about this entire ordeal. That there are no set end dates and even a future in which things get “back to normal” (whatever that means) seems fraught with issues and unstable (at best!).

5. Which events will the PGA Tour use to fill in the calendar? The PGA Tour has the opportunity to fill a U.S. Open date in June, an Open Championship date in July and an Olympics date in July. Which tournaments are going to go in those slots, and will that even work logistically (again, if golf is even allowed by that point)? Do you bring back events from March, April and May that got axed? Do you bump fall events up a few months knowing that some of the fall schedule is going to going to get torpedoed by our new fall major season? It remains to be seen how all of this is handled. 

6. Who gets in the Masters (and U.S. Open)? It has been reported that the U.S. Open field is shrinking to 144 golfers, which is understandable since there will be less daylight in September than in June. But which spots does the USGA take away? Also, how does Augusta National determine which golfers get into this Masters? Normally, they allow winners of events up until the week before the Masters (as well as the top 50 in the world the week before the Masters) into the tournament for that year, but if that continues, it would greatly shrink the field for the 2021 Masters. As Will Gray noted, it seems as if the 2020 Masters field may already be pretty much set based on recent language with any summer or fall winners heading to the 2021 Masters like they normally would.

7. Ryder Cup picks: Even if the PGA Tour starts back up when it believes it could later this summer, there aren’t going to be many weeks left to let the Ryder Cup teams shake out. Will each side allow its captains more leeway in captain’s picks, or will the teams proceed with qualification as it is instituted right now? Even more interestingly, will the Ryder Cup really be played without fans? That’s the one event that would be infeasible to stage without spectators. Can you imagine an empty arena two years after hearing this echo up and down the corridors of Paris?

8. The butterfly effect: This is less a question than a thought exercise. Who would have won the Masters in April, and instead, who will win it in November? It’s an impossible question to answer without living in a parallel universe, but it’s a fascinating one. The event being held in November on a course that might play a little longer than normal will certainly benefit somebody and hurt somebody else, but who are those two somebodies, and which players do we talk differently about for forever following something that upended the norm and was completely out of their hands.

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