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Coronavirus notebook

British Open canceled, Masters in November as golf recasts schedule

Shane Lowry will get to hold onto the claret jug for another year after the 2020 British Open was canceled Monday because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Shane Lowry will get to hold onto the claret jug for another year after the 2020 British Open was canceled Monday because of the coronavirus pandemic.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Masters goes from that annual rite of spring to two weeks before Thanksgiving. The US Open now is scheduled in September for the first time since amateur Francis Ouimet took down Britain’s best in Brookline.

And the oldest championship of them all won’t even be played.

Golf organizations tried to salvage a season unlike any other Monday with a series of changes, starting with the British Open being canceled for the first time since 1945. The PGA Championship, which last year moved to May, would go back to August. That would be followed by the PGA Tour’s postseason, the US Open and Ryder Cup in consecutive weeks, and then the Masters on Nov. 12-15.

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“Any Masters is better than no Masters,” Augusta native Charles Howell III said.

Still to be determined was when — or even if — golf could resume because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down sports worldwide.

Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley said the Masters identified November as “intended dates.” CEO Seth Waugh said the PGA of America was “holding” Aug. 6-9 as dates for the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco. USGA chief Mike Davis said moving from June to September was the best chance to mitigate health and safety concerns — Winged Foot is 5 miles from a hot spot of the new coronavirus — to have “the best opportunity” of staging the US Open.

The British Open effectively is pushing its schedule back one year, saying the 149th Open still is set for Royal St. George’s on July 15-18, leaving the 150th Open for St. Andrews the following year.

“I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year, but it is not going to be possible,” R&A chief Martin Slumbers said.

Golf Digest reported that R&A could cancel because of insurance concerns. Like the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the R&A is insured against a global pandemic and cancellation would have to occur by a certain date.

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“The R&A is the most [insured] of all the tournaments,” a source said. “They have complete cancellation insurance. I just don’t see any golf [being played] before August.”

Golf’s major organizations, starting with the PGA Tour and its calendar filled with tournaments, have been trying to piece together a puzzle for the last three weeks. Each agreed to announce their plans together in a show of collaboration. Still missing is the starting line, along with some details on what could be the most hectic pace golf has ever known.

“We hope the anticipation of staging the Masters Tournament in the fall brings a moment of joy to the Augusta community and all those who love the sport,” Ridley said. “We want to emphasize that our future plans are incumbent upon favorable counsel and direction from health officials.”

Augusta National closed early this year because of the coronavirus and does not open until October. The bloom of dogwoods and azalea will give way to fall foliage. Instead of being the second full week in April, it will compete against football. At the collegiate level, Georgia is home against Tennessee that weekend.

The PGA Tour has tentatively planned to complete its FedEx Cup season close to schedule, with the Tour Championship finishing on Labor Day. It also is contemplating putting tournaments in dates that previously belonged to the US Open, British Open, and Olympics.

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“It’s a complex situation, and we want to balance the commitments to our various partners with playing opportunities for our members — while providing compelling competition to our fans,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “But all of that must be done while navigating the unprecedented global crisis that is impacting every single one of us.”

The new schedule features:

º Aug. 6-9: PGA Championship;

º Aug. 13-16: End of PGA Tour regular season at Wyndham Championship;

º Aug. 20-23: Start of FedEx Cup playoffs at The Northern Trust;

º Aug. 27-30: BMW Championship, second playoff event;

º Sept. 4-7: Tour Championship for the FedEx Cup;

º Sept. 17-20: U.S. Open at Winged Foot;

º Sept. 25-27: Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

It was not immediately clear how the teams from Europe and the United States would be determined for the Ryder Cup, although European captain Padraig Harrington has said he would not be opposed to picking all 12 players.

For the 24 players, that means going from what long has been regarded as the toughest test in golf to what has become the most tiresome three days in golf at the Ryder Cup.

“It’s definitely better than leaving the Tour Championship and going to France, or leaving the Bahamas to go to Australia,” said Patrick Cantlay, referring to the most recent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup itineraries for the Americans.

Like everything else, so much remains up in the air until golf and other sports get the signal to resume.

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Other details also must be sorted out, such as US Open qualifying. The next tournament on the PGA Tour schedule is Colonial on May 21-24, though that appears unlikely.

Ridley said every player who has received invitations to play the Masters in April will stay on the list. He also said the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was canceled, and every player can keep their spots for next year provided they don’t turn pro.

The US Senior Open at Newport Country Club and the US Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Connecticut have been canceled.

MLB: All-in in Arizona?

Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.

The sides held a telephone call to talk about paths forward for a season delayed by the pandemic, people familiar with the discussion told the Associated Press.

Ideas are still in the early stage, and the Arizona option would have many obstacles to overcome, the people said.

Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida. Arizona’s advantage is 10 spring training ballparks plus the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field all within about 50 miles. Florida’s spring training ballparks are spread by as much as 220 miles.

“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment."

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“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy,” Boras added. "You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s it’s really good for a culture to have to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus.”

Baseball’s season had been set to start March 26 but spring training was halted on March 12. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for eight weeks, MLB said it would not open until mid-May at the earliest.

NBA on hold til May

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is bracing for several more weeks of uncertainty about the remainder of this halted season, revealing that he does not expect the league will be able to decide anything until at least May.

Silver spoke on the NBA’s Twitter account as part of the league’s new NBATogether initiative. Silver touched on many topics, including how the league is looking at numerous scenarios for a return, but in every case the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible right now to move too far forward.

“Essentially, what I’ve told my folks over the last week is that we just should just accept that, at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said. “And I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be.”

The NBA was the first of the major US pro leagues to shut down because of the COVID-19 threat, doing so after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first player in the league to test positive for the virus. The league’s regular season was to end April 15, and the playoffs were to begin April 18.

That isn't going to happen, and that has been known for some time. The NBA wants this season to resume, but simply cannot say with any certainty if it will or will not happen.

Among the decisions that have yet to be made, Silver said: whether the regular season will resume in some form or if the NBA would go immediately into the playoffs — assuming the league can salvage this season at all.

Also on the drawing board: if games would be played in NBA arenas or practice facilities, how televising games would work and if the league would take everybody to one site to finish the season. Cities have expressed interest in that option and have reached out to the NBA to say as much, Silver said.

“We're in listening mode right now," he said.

Silver also discussed Saturday’s 45-minute conference call that he and other major US sports leaders had with President Donald Trump. The president said he had been watching some replays of past major sports events, then asked the commissioners and others for their thoughts.

“It wasn’t just a pep talk, but I think it was a reminder of what the meaning is of sports to Americans, to our culture in particular,” Silver said. “What came back from all the leagues collectively was once we get the all-clear, however that’s determined, of course with public health officials and by our government . . . we’re going to be ready to go. But first and foremost is the health and safety of everyone involved.”

NBA draws line on draft prep

The NBA has told teams that they may not conduct or attend any workouts with draft-eligible players during the league’s coronavirus hiatus, a major change from typical procedures.

Teams also are being prohibited “from watching, requesting, or sharing any video (live or recorded) of a draft-eligible player or prospective early entry player taking part in a workout” during the league’s shutdown. The NBA told teams of the rule changes Monday in a memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.

Teams will be allowed to conduct interviews by phone or video, though they will be capped at a total of four hours with any draft prospect. They can also send questionnaires to players in advance of any interviews.

“Given the unique challenges associated with the current coronavirus situation, it is apparent that teams will not have the same scouting opportunities that are typically available in advance,” the league told teams in the memo.

Teams and their personnel can watch footage of any draft-eligible players or prospective early-entry players participating in games or practices that took place before the league’s hiatus began.

Liverpool does about-face on furlough

Apologizing to its own fans, Liverpool reversed a decision to apply its furloughed non-playing staff for the British government’s job retention plan during the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the plan implemented to help businesses survive the national lockdown, staff members can be put on furlough and receive 80 percent of their salaries from the government, up to a maximum of $3,000 a month.

Liverpool’s about-turn came after two days of fans and former players of the European champion expressing unhappiness with its furloughing plans.

“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the coronavirus retention scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar,” Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore said in a message to fans, “and are truly sorry for that.”

Players remain on full pay at the club, which is 25 points clear with nine games to go in a Premier League on hold as sporting events are banned in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Tottenham, which lost to Liverpool in last season’s Champions League final, has disregarded a backlash from its supporters and politicians by pressing ahead with plans revealed a week ago to furlough staff.

Manchester rivals United and City have said they would not use public funds to make savings on the wage bill despite much of the clubs' operations being paused.

Liverpool is one of the wealthiest clubs in world football, making a pre-tax profit of $52 million last year. The northwest English club has been owned for a decade by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group, which also features the Boston Red Sox. Henry also owns the Globe.

“Our intentions were, and still are, to ensure the entire workforce is given as much protection as possible from redundancy and/or loss of earnings during this unprecedented period," Moore said. “We are therefore committed to finding alternative ways to operate while there are no football matches being played that ensures we are not applying for the government relief scheme.”

Fellow Premier League clubs Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth are still furloughing some non-playing staff.

Manchester United told its full-time staff of around 900 that they would continue to be paid in full. Anyone unable to work from home or those with reduced workloads have been urged to volunteer for the National Health Service or in their local communities.

Serie A players balk at pay-cut plan

The Italian soccer players’ association rejected a proposal from Serie A clubs to reduce salaries by a third if the season does not resume as “unmanageable.”

The guideline austerity measure was agreed on by 19 of the 20 clubs, the Italian league announced, with Juventus not included because it already finalized a deal with its players to relieve financial pressure on the defending champion amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The reduction would be equal to four months of salary but would be reduced to only two months if the season is completed.

The league added “it remains understood that the clubs will define the agreements directly with their members.”

The players' association responded with a statement calling the league's behavior “incomprehensible at a time like this.”

The association adds that the desire to make the players pay for the economic damages from the crisis “by painting them in a bad light should make people reflect on the credibility of those who should be leading the soccer system in this time of difficulty.”

At least 15 Serie A players have tested positive for COVID-19.

The players’ association noted that the “presidents deciding to suspend wages are the same ones who sent their squads out to play until March 9, and made the players train until mid-March.”

Serie A has been suspended since the government ordered a nationwide lockdown nearly a month ago. Twelve rounds remain along with four games that were postponed from the weekend of Feb. 22. The Italian Cup semifinals also were interrupted after the first leg.

IndyCar cancels Michigan races

Roger Penske has canceled the doubleheader race at Detroit and adjusted the IndyCar schedule as the series remains on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Penske told the Associated Press he had no choice but to cancel the two races at Belle Isle because Michigan is under a stay-at-home order and workers cannot begin constructing the track. Penske is the promoter of that race.

“We’re under lockdown, we can’t do anything,” Penske said. He had previously told AP he could move the event to later in the season if racing remained on hold by May 30.

IndyCar is now tentatively scheduled to start its season June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Penske closed on his purchase of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in January but all his plans have been disrupted since the season-opening race was called off 48 hours before the green flag.

To ensure a 15-race schedule, IndyCar will now run doubleheaders at Iowa Speedway, Laguna Speedway in California, and return for a second race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October. It is the third schedule revision for the series and Penske has already taken the unprecedented step of moving the Indianapolis 500 to August and off Memorial Day weekend for the first time in race history.

The Iowa 300 weekend will add a Friday race on July 17, along with the previously scheduled race July 18. The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will now feature a race Sept. 19, as well as the previously scheduled race Sept. 20.

Research pivots from doping

The nonprofit that raises funds for around 80 percent of the world’s anti-doping research is shifting $120,000 to conduct 15,000 COVID-19 tests that will help scientists get a better sense of how many people have the new coronavirus but show no symptoms.

The Partnership for Clean Competition, a research group founded in 2008 by the US Anti-Doping Agency, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the US Olympic Committee, is teaming with University of Southern California, Stanford, and a Salt Lake City lab known for its cutting-edge anti-doping work to conduct tests among the general public.

Since its founding, the PCC has raised more than $29 million to fund about 100 research projects in the anti-doping field. This is its first project that goes outside that realm.

Identifying asymptomatic people who are infected, and those who have been infected and recovered, is seen as a key to helping control the spread of the virus. More than 350,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus in the United States, and more than 10,000 of those people have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

“The study will reveal the prevalence of COVID-19 infections,” said Daniel Eichner, president of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City. “Importantly, the data will also determine how many people have been infected and recovered. Based on our observations of other outbreaks, many carriers don’t have a clinical reason to get tested, so they go undetected and may continue to put others at risk of infection.”

PCC executive director Michael Pearlmutter said the Salt Lake City lab has purchased 15,000 testing kits that produce results within 15 minutes. They will be given to people in sports-related organizations near Stanford and USC, but also to members of the general public in highly affected areas, as a way of getting a better gauge on how many people have the virus in the general population.

“What we need is a large enough sample size to produce data that can be used for solid decision-making,” Pearlmutter said.