Memorial's reversal banning fans shows how difficult sports' return is now

Jay Busbee
·3-min read

Ever been to a golf tournament? You crowd in together entering the course. You crowd together in the pro shop buying merch, you crowd together at the beer tent, you crowd together around the green watching the world’s greatest putt out. It’s a communal activity, directly at odds with the need for social distancing.

Still, there’s a lot of room on a golf course for fans. So when the PGA Tour announced back in the spring that next week’s Memorial would be its first tournament to welcome back fans, there was cautious hope. Surely golf fans could be trusted to keep far apart, right? Surely they’d stay separated to minimize the spread of coronavirus, right?

Cut to July 2020. With cases spiking all over the nation, including in the Memorial’s home state of Ohio, the PGA Tour has decided that perhaps fans along the ropes aren’t such a great idea after all.

“Given the broader challenges communities are facing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we need to stay focused on the No. 1 priority for our Return to Golf — the health and safety of all involved,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement. “While this was a difficult decision, it was one made collectively, and we are appreciative of the process undertaken to this point that will allow us to welcome on-site fans when the time is right.”

The Tour had worked with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to devise a plan that called for 8,000 fans per day, about 20 percent of the tournament’s usual capacity. All fans on-site would have had to wear masks. There would have been no grandstands, and areas around the holes would have clearly been marked as one-way in order to minimize interactions.

Jack Nicklaus and Patrick Cantlay at the 2019 Memorial. (Getty)
Jack Nicklaus and Patrick Cantlay at the 2019 Memorial. (Getty)

But like many other states, Ohio has seen an uptick in positive tests in recent weeks. Every day in July has been higher than the state’s rolling 21-day case average of 762 positive tests, peaking on July 2 at 1,301 positive tests. Overall, Ohio has recorded 57,151 cases of the virus.

Tour players themselves haven’t been immune from the virus; multiple players and caddies have contracted the virus, and players such as Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson have withdrawn as a result of either infection or exposure.

The 3M Open and the PGA Championship had already announced they would be playing without fans in attendance. So the earliest that galleries might fill is now the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis and the Barracuda Championship in Reno, both scheduled for July 30-Aug. 2.

With the caveat that very few of us are epidemiologists, this reversal illustrates just how hard it’s going to be for fans to attend sporting events again anytime soon. If the Tour doesn’t feel that 20 percent of normal-capacity fans, with room to move virtually anywhere on a course, can safely watch an event, how can we expect to see fans who would be restricted to a single seat?

We’ll see fans surrounding Tiger Woods again sooner or later. But at the moment, it sure feels more like later than sooner.


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at

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