Live golf returns to television on Sunday, and it might not look entirely familiar except for the players.
The only rake on the golf course will be carried by a PGA Tour rules official. If the flagstick is removed from the cup, it will be handled by another rules official.
And the four players – Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff – will be carrying their own bags in the charity Skins game at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida.
This was important to McIlroy, who didn’t like the alternative of millionaires zipping around in their own carts.
»I was a bit against that because I think if this is going to be the first time showcasing golf, trying to get out of this COVID-19 era, I think it’s a good way to show you can socially distance by carrying your own bag and getting a bit of exercise,» McIlroy said this week on the McKellar Journal podcast. »Instead of sitting in a cart, jumping on and off, it’s a good image for the game seeing four tour pros out there carrying bags.»
Of course, this will require some adjustments.
McIlroy played Seminole before it closed last week for the summer, and he carried his own bag. It was heavier than it needed to be.
»I probably had 18 clubs, two dozen balls, a sweater in there,» he said. »The weather looks good on Sunday. I’ll take out the umbrella and take as many balls as I need.»
Golf in Palm Beach County only opened a few weeks ago, and strict policies are in place: arriving 20 minutes before the tee time; flagsticks in the hole; no raking bunkers; and devices, such as foam noodle, that keep players from reaching into the bottom of the cup (typically 4 inches) to retrieve their golf balls.
With only four elite players, PGA Tour rules official Stephen Cox said Saturday the county is allowing the noodle to be removed, and players can arrive an hour ahead of time for the »TaylorMade Driving Relief» exhibition.
As for the golf?
Mike Tirico, who will host the NBC telecast beginning at 2 p.m. EDT from his home office in Michigan, might have said it best.
»Someone gets over a ball, and we don’t know the outcome,» said Tirico, referring to the void on television filled with reruns of historic moments in sport.
The relevant outcome is money for coronavirus relief. UnitedHealth Group is pledging $3 million. McIlroy and Johnson’s »earnings» go to the American Nurses Foundation. Fowler and Wolff are playing for the CDC Foundation. Farmers Insurance is pledging $1 million toward birdies and eagles that goes to healthcare workers, and PGA Tour Charities has an online donation program during the telecast.
For the television audience, it’s about golf.
This will be the first live action on TV since the opening round of The Players Championship on March 12 – Hideki Matsuyama started with a 63. And it will be the first of back-to-back Sundays of golf on TV. On May 24, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning play Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a match at Medalist with $10 million going to COVID-19 relief.
One difference is Seminole, the Donald Ross design along the Atlantic Ocean that has hosted the game’s best for nearly a century but has never been seen on TV.
»Within the golf community, the golf course is a big part of why people are excited about it,» McIlroy said on the podcast. »The Walker Cup is there next year. It’s four of the best players in the world, not two of the best and two NFL players. It’s a pure golf match.»
All four players have endorsements with TaylorMade, the sponsor of the exhibition.
McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, has won four majors. Johnson played with him at three of those victories. They had talked about playing together as a team in the Zurich Classic before the pandemic shut down golf.
The PGA Tour has had 10 tournaments canceled or postponed since the last one completed, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
»It’s definitely exciting just to play,» Johnson said. »Obviously with no live sports really on right now, I think the world needs something to watch, so I think hopefully we can go out and put on a good show.»