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Golf gone for now

Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Golf gone for now - Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez about world golf’s current shutdown

In all my years I’ve never known anything quite like the massive upheaval that’s now being caused by the coronavirus outbreak, not just in golf but in everyday life.

It’s really difficult to get your head around the affects of this health scare. We won’t know if the governments of the world are over-reacting or not but one thing is for sure, we don’t want people falling over everywhere and then realise we’ve all under-reacted.

I see that Jack Nicklaus has said that he doesn’t believe the Masters can now be played this season and I think he has a valid point. A summer-time date would seem to be out of the question because they have 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity in Augusta at that time of the year.

And there would be too many complications in terms of moving it later in the year, what with the FedExCup playoff series going on then and the Ryder Cup following on from that at Whistling Straits at the end of September.

Looking back at my long 60-year plus association with golf, nothing quite compares to this moment in time with events being cancelled left, right and centre and the players not knowing when they’re going to be teeing it up again.

The only incidents remotely comparable in my memory are from the early 1970s when apartheid was a dominant issue. I played in the same group as Gary Player quite a few times on the PGA Tour and people in the galleries were shouting out at him and trying to disrupt things.

It was difficult and unsettling for his playing partners so you can imagine how bad it would have been for Gary. He tried to stay as neutral as he could at that time in history but he was being blamed for having the opinion he had.

However, if anyone could get over treatment like that it was Gary because he was always so focused, so driven and so committed to the game.

I remember Hubert Green played with him and he made some comments about it, basically saying, ‘Hang on, this guy is coming over here to play in another country and I’m getting affected by it and being put at a disadvantage’.

Hubert made one or two headlines with his remarks but it was an example of American protectionism in the days when they were reluctant to accept foreign players anyway. I know that was the case because there was a sizeable contingent who did their best to make me feel unwelcome during that era.

Talking of unsavoury incidents, my mind also goes back to the time when the troubles in Northern Ireland were at their worst and I received a telegram saying I would be shot if I went over to play in a tournament in Belfast.

The story appeared on the front page of the UK newspaper the Daily Mirror and suffice to say I didn’t play in the event. My first wife Vivien, of course, was from Northern Ireland and somehow we both got dragged into it.

Who knows how long this coronavirus outbreak will last? The Open at Sandwich in July could also eventually become a victim of the worldwide sporting shutdown.

The only good thing for all us golfers, professionals and amateurs alike, is that we can still go out and play a few holes. Golf clubs haven’t been closed down yet and, as long as we can scale back on the social side of the game and restrict our time at the 19th hole, the game can represent a welcome distraction.