What The Match: Champions For Charity Can Reveal About PGA Tour In Age Of Coronavirus

(CBS Miami/CBS Local) — The PGA Tour’s return is still a few weeks away. The return of many other major sports is still further off. But The Match: Champions for Charity this Sunday, with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, will offer another glimpse at what tournament golf could look like in a coronavirus world.

There have already been a few sports sightings. NASCAR returned last Sunday with the Real Heroes 400 at the fan-less Darlington Raceway. UFC came out swinging the week before. Further afield, we’ve seen German soccer and South Korean baseball grab the attention of action-starved sports fans.

Last Sunday’s TaylorMade Driving Relief match featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler marked the return of golf. And while it wasn’t an official Tour event, it was entertaining and somewhat competitive. McIlroy and Johnson won, and the event raised raised $5 million for the American Nurses Foundation and CDC Foundation, important organizations in the fight against coronavirus.

This weekend we’ll have another competition of sorts, when Woods and Manning team up against Mickelson and Brady at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida. COVID-19 relief is again the cause, with at least $10 million set to be donated to organizations that include Direct Relief, the American Red Cross, Save Small Business and the All In Challenge.

As with last Sunday’s event, the level of intensity and competition won’t rise to Tour standards. Never mind that two of the four elite athletes are known for their feats in football, not golf. But the event will offer another look at the game’s near future.

Is Tiger Woods ready, from a health perspective, for a busy season of golf? His play has been very up and down since his win at the Masters over a year ago. Tiger’s two 2020 appearances ended in a T9 at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and a 68 at the Genesis Invitational in February. Weeks after his brutal weekend at Riviera, he pulled out of the Players Championship. Woods said in a tweet, “I have to listen to my body and properly rest when needed. My back is simply just not ready for play next week.”

The Players was subsequently canceled, and pro golf has been on hiatus since. This will be the first anyone has seen of Tiger on the course since that February collapse. How his swing looks now could be a clue to his readiness for what could be a busy schedule, at least for him.

What will competitive golf tournaments look like in the coronavirus age? In the near future, they will probably look a lot like a typical Sunday afternoon at any local golf course. That is, aside from the pristine greens and world-class players.

This Sunday’s event, like last Sunday’s and those in the coming weeks, won’t include live spectators. The experience is a bit jarring for any fan of big-time sports. But if any sport lends itself to social distancing, it’s golf. Not to be too obvious about it, but there’s plenty of space and nobody has to touch anyone else during the course of play. In fact, there’s already an understood etiquette of giving fellow players their space in moments of competition. All this became all the more clear at last Sunday’s charity event and should play out similarly this Sunday.

That doesn’t mean the players won’t interact. The Champions for Charity match, like Driving Relief, is sure to include plenty of banter. And it will be all the more audible with the players wearing open mics. It’s a side of the game — any game, really — that fans usually only catch in snippets. The competitiveness should be dialed back on Sunday, and the trash talk should be dialed up. The reverse would be true of a Tour event, of course. Still, the ongoing dialogue among participants could be a way to bring back some of the energy lost with the fans’ absence. And Champions for Charity could offer some clues as to how.