Sobel: Adaptability of NFL Draft Should Offer Optimism for PGA TOUR’s Return

Credit:

Ben Jared/PGA TOUR. Pictured: Xander Schauffele during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club.

Ever since the PGA TOUR announced June 11 as its return date from the COVID-19 schedule suspension, my opinion has ping-ponged on a daily, even hourly, basis as to whether I’m more optimistic or pessimistic about the possibility.

The pros: Golf itself can easily be a social distancing experience; on-site population with no fans might only number 600-700; and the TOUR seems determined to provide these opportunities for players and please title sponsors, neither of which should be overlooked.

The cons: Quick, easy testing for those involved still isn’t readily available; an aggressive travel schedule will provide issues; and the domino effect of positive cases could be one that shuts it all down at some point — or at least slows the process.

My standard line these days is that I’m cautiously optimistic, though it often varies as to whether I’m more cautious or optimistic. The truth is, my answer to the question about PGA TOUR golf being played in seven weeks mirrors that of when asked about Tiger Woods winning another major: “I… honestly… don’t… know.”

What I do know is that the pro side of this equation earned another checkmark on my list this weekend, when another event that was previously regarded as inconceivable went off without a hitch.

Prior to the NFL Draft, many general managers around the league had lobbied to push it back, suggesting that the technology involved with video conferencing would render too many pratfalls to allow this to be a successful operation. Instead, it was reported that not a single team endured these issues and needed to press pause on the draft over three days, while some might argue it was even more efficient than past experiences.

In Peter King’s popular “Football Morning in America” column, he quoted NFL GMs singing the praises of the process, from the Saints’ Mickey Loomis (“The concerns many of us had related to technology did not materialize”) to the Buccaneers’ Jason Licht (“I gotta be honest with you, I loved it”) to the Jets’ Joe Douglas (“You never experience the draft with your family. This year was an unintended plus. I loved being together for it”).

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: Drafting college players through video conferencing and playing live golf tournaments are hardly similar activities. The ol’ apples and oranges comparison isn’t a wide enough divide.

That’s true, but it’s not my point here.

The reason this weekend’s NFL Draft offered some optimism is because of its adaptability from traditional norms. The league took an event that has been conducted the same way for decades, altered it to fit our current societal situation and still found success in a similar-yet-much-different final product.

Jay Monahan, the PGA TOUR commissioner, should find some solace in NFL commish Roger Goodell’s ability to install changes, deviating from the norm and reimagining an event to fit social guidelines while still providing a semblance of entertainment.

This should serve as a rallying cry for golf entering the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first event on the adjusted schedule.

[Updated 2020 Sports Calendar: NASCAR Eyeing May 17 & The NFL’s Back-Up Plan]

Besides the concessions which have already been made in the game – no bunker rakes, no pulling the flagstick out, no post-round handshakes – other compromises might actually allow for an improved product.

Don’t have enough on-site cameras and roving reporters to allow a TV broadcast to look the way it usually does? Then have a couple of players wear microphones and let’s simply follow along from their perspectives for the afternoon.

Don’t want players and caddies interacting too closely before every shot? Give the latter a week off to start and let’s see how the world’s best fare on a solo mission with their own pushcarts.

Don’t have enough practicality for a regular press conference or media scrum with a player? Offer it via video conferencing instead, allowing fans at home access, as well, in what will undeniably be a more intimate experience than the regular operation.

There are specific ways the PGA TOUR will have to adapt, if indeed it returns seven weeks from now. These ways, though, don’t need to be limiting, just because of the current situation.

If anything, as we learned from the NFL Draft, these options can actually be more enlightening. They can humanize the stars of the show, offering them in a different light than ever before.

Yes, it will take some creativity. And yes, there are still plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the game returning at its highest level so quickly.

There are also reasons for optimism, though – cautious as it might be – and the ability for adaptation should be high on this list. We witnessed it this weekend.

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