Pro golfer Tom Hoge is a nomad in normal times. Here in the abnormal time of coronavirus, he’ll stay at home one more week when the PGA Tour resumes its suspended season Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas.
He has lived there since he left Fargo for Texas Christian University in 2007. His home, all those ensuing years, has been near historic Colonial Country Club, which will welcome the tour back to play for the first time since March.
Consider it a home game for the two-time Minnesota State Amateur champion and nine-year tour pro who has three top-10 finishes and $1.7 million earned in his first 13 events this season.
“I was playing well, felt like I was playing my best there before we got canceled,” Hoge said. “Now it’s time, hopefully, to find that same form, get back out there and keep it going.”
On Thursday golf will help lead professional sports back into action with the Charles Schwab Challenge. It’ll do so with a field that features the world’s top five ranked players — including No. 1 Rory McIlroy — and Minnesotan Tom Lehman, but not No. 11 Tiger Woods.
All those entered have waited all these months — just as golf fans have waited to watch something, if only on television.
“It’ll be great, just for sports fans in general,” Hoge said. “It has been a tough time with nothing to do and nothing to watch on TV. If we can be the first ones back and do it in a safe way that shows we can get back out there again, hopefully we can lead the way for the rest of the sports.”
This week’s tournament is the first in a resumed season and remade schedule. Three of the four major championships have been pushed back months on the calendar. The Masters has been moved from April to November, the U.S. Open from June to September, the PGA Championship from May to August. July’s British Open won’t be played at all.
The John Deere Classic in July — scheduled to be the fourth tournament played in this resumption — has been canceled, too. 3M Open officials are waiting to learn from Minnesota health officials whether they can have enough people on site, likely 1,000-1,300, to stage their July 23-26 tournament in Blaine for television broadcast.
The PGA Tour returns to its new world with comprehensive nasal-swab testing for players, caddies and others closest to them before they arrive on site. Everyone at Colonial must daily answer a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken. These precautions are intended to create what Hoge calls a protective “bubble” created by new regulations.
The number of people allowed at Colonial will be limited, and access to player and caddie areas such as the clubhouse and locker rooms will be restricted.
Unlike safety measures taken in Minnesota golf, caddies at Colonial will be allowed to touch flagsticks and bunker rakes but will be given hand sanitizer to wipe them.
“It’ll be different for sure,” Hoge said. “A lot more time will be required showing up at the course, getting your temperature checked and that sort of stuff. You’ll have to be patient for sure.”
Road more troubled, less traveled
You might see a physically distanced tip of the cap or an air elbow bump rather than high-fives or post-round handshakes, unless old habits die hard.
The tour will charter flights to transport players and caddies from tournament to tournament. They’re encouraged to stay in tour-designated hotels and eat takeout or to-go food rather than eat in restaurants.
Even Hoge’s wife, Kelly, won’t be allowed on site at Colonial and can’t travel with him when he takes his show on the road for the next tournaments.
“Regular everyday play won’t be that much different,” Hoge said. “The difficulty comes with the travel and the logistics of hotels and that stuff. As far as the golf goes, I think we’re all ready to get back to a small sense of normalcy.”
‘Quiet’ signs now unnecessary
Golf as compared to other pro sports is most suited to the quiet that will come in competition with no spectators allowed on courses.
“I’ve been first off a lot in my career and nobody’s at the golf course anyway,” Hoge said dryly. “So that won’t be a whole lot different for me.”
He played Colonial a week ago and saw the kind of course PGA Tour officials are reimagining in look and feel during this coronavirus age. Absent are grandstands and the kind of “builds” with corporate boxes and seating that normally surround Colonial’s 18th green and line the par-3 13th hole.
Television viewers still will see abundant corporate signage. Tees, fairways and greens will be roped and staked, and electronic scoreboards will be located across the course in a setup that PGA Tour advance official John Mutch told the Golf Channel has a “real nostalgic, old-school feel.”
Course’s barren backdrop
When Hoge visited last week, he saw a course nearly unrecognizable for PGA Tour tournament play.
“There’s nothing,” he said. “There’s TV towers up and that’s all that is out there.”
Colonial and other tournament courses that will be played in coming weeks won’t just look unusual. They’ll play differently as well when golfers stray beyond the ropes into rough untrampled by galleries and won’t have grandstands there to bounce back errant shots.
“It might play a little more difficult just because the fans aren’t there,” Hoge said.
Mutch called preparations to resume the tour schedule at Colonial “monumental” these past two months.
“We have an opportunity to show the world we can do this and do it right,” he said.