Tournament Play – And so it begins….again….

“If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear, does it still fall?” The answer to this pseudo-existential question is yes, of course it still falls.

With the COVID-19 nightmare descending upon the global community like an unseen vise, the PGA Tour closed up shop on March 12 after the first round of the Players Championship. No tournaments have been held since then, with numerous cancellations, schedule adjustments, major disappointments and postponements.

This week, the big boys will finally tee it up again, in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. This is the first PGA Tour event to be held in the new COVID era, and the tournament will be adhering to the new restrictions.

The first five PGA Tour events will be held without fans. No gallery. No grandstands. Very few staff. Just a handful of media on site.

The tree is going to fall in the forest, and there will be nobody there to hear it fall (at least, not in person). But the tournament will still be held.

And maybe that is okay? Maybe this brings up larger questions about what competition is about?

Maybe people want to play just to play. Just to compete. Just to play hard against other competitors, for the sheer thrill and personal satisfaction of feeling alive on the earth. Athletic competition can be a shared experience between the competitors and those who enjoy watching (and understanding) the competition. But this personal joy begins early in life, in the sandlots and dusty driving ranges of our youth, with nobody watching, and only our imagination giving full weight to what we were doing (“And here I am on the final hole, with this 5-foot putt to win the U.S. Open. It’s rolling, it’s tracking, and…..!”).

There are questions brought about state or regional amateur championships. But I don’t really understand them. “Play it as it lies” has taken on a whole new meaning in the COVID era – whatever the rules are on that day and on that course, may the best player win.

There will be particular and unusual setups on the golf course – no rakes in bunkers, the possibility of raised cups, no handling of items on the course, etc. And this will indeed have an effect on things such as, “Is a course record legitimate under these circumstances?” or “Can final scores be compared to final scores of the past?” or “Should there be an asterisk given to all championships played under these modified conditions?”

The knock on someone who wins an event against a “weak” field or played under modified conditions is that it is somehow not quite legitimate. But the easy answer to that is, “They beat everyone who showed up.”

In the movie “Invincible,” which depicted the unlikely but true story of Vince Papale who, in a publicity stunt by new head coach Dick Vermeil, walked on to make the Philadelphia Eagles professional football team. Papale’s friend convinced to go to the tryout, saying, “Even if you’re down there for an hour, you’re down there.”

In other words, just show up.

Tom Cade is the editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, which is published by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA). He is also the senior director of communications for the PNGA and Washington Golf. From 2010-2015 he served as president of the Northwest Golf Media Association, and in 2016 received the NWGMA Distinguished Service Award. He was the editor and publisher of America’s St. Andrews, the best-selling book about Chambers Bay and the 2015 U.S. Open. He also was editor of the Centennial history book for Inglewood Golf Club (published 2019). He is a regular member of the Golf Writers Association of America.