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Charters? Stipends? LPGA pros are excited, but they have COVID concerns, too


Cristie Kerr didn’t mind a nurse raking a cotton swab through her nose and down into the back of her throat quite as much Tuesday after hearing news that the AIG Women’s British Open and Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open are on track to be played next month.

“It’s massive news,” Kerr said. “A lot of us didn’t think that was going to happen, because of the travel restrictions in place. Everyone’s just really pumped.”

Kerr, by the way, took that COVID-19 test on her own, as a safety measure before she leaves her Phoenix home this weekend, to work with her coach, Michael Hunt, in Las Vegas. It’s time to ramp up preparation for the LPGA’s scheduled restart at the Drive On Championship at Inverness in Ohio in three weeks.

Angela Stanford was in South Dakota on Tuesday, far from her Texas home, working with her coach, Todd Kolb, when she heard the Scottish Swing is committed to playing through the coronavirus pandemic.

“We finally got some good news,” Stanford said. “I’m extremely grateful there are people working for us, who want to see us play. I know all our sponsors support us, but it was nice hearing a couple of them say, `Come on, come and play.’ Sometimes, you just need some good news.”

The LPGA is scheduled to restart with back-to-back events in Toledo, Ohio, with the Drive On Championship set to begin July 31 and the Marathon Classic to follow the week after.

The Drive On Championship won’t be played in front of fans, but the Marathon Classic is scheduled to be open to spectators. Whether fans will actually be allowed, however, is uncertain, in the wake of news that the Memorial is canceling its plans to allow fans to the PGA Tour event in Columbus. That’s scheduled two weeks before the Drive On Championship.

Marathon Classic tournament director Judd Silverman said last month that it wasn’t likely the LPGA event would be staged without fans.

Players will be wondering about that when they join LPGA commissioner Mike Whan on a pair of conference calls Wednesday.

“I think we’re going to get quite a lot of information,” Stanford said. “We’re three weeks out from Inverness, and it’s time we get the information we need, the protocols and testing plans.

“We know Mike Whan’s going to do the right things, and he’s going to take care of us and get us out there as much as he can.”

While there’s excitement over the restart, there’s also trepidation.

Mo Martin, the 2014 Women’s British Open champion, won’t be taking the trip to Scotland next month. It’s partly because her ailing back is still an issue, but she said she probably wouldn’t go even if she were completely healthy, because of the spiking pandemic.

“It’s going to hurt my heart, not being there at the British,” Martin said. “I’ll sorely miss it.

“To me, traveling from where I am, in Los Angeles, a hot spot, it’s too early. I just feel a responsibility for other people. I don’t want to be an asymptomatic carrier and get somebody sick. I’ve been extremely cautious. I wear my mask everywhere. I’ve limited things, contact with people. I haven’t hugged my mom in months. We have picnics, but I don’t touch her or get too near her.”

Martin is grateful Whan is extending priority status for all players through 2021, giving those who don’t want to take risks during the pandemic more time to return.

“There are going to be players nervous about things, and that’s OK,” Stanford said. “It’s a choice this year. You don’t have to go to Scotland. You don’t have to do things you feel uncomfortable with, and it won’t affect your priority ranking next year. That’s a good thing the tour has done for us. They’ve protected the players who don’t feel comfortable traveling and playing.”

Though LPGA pros have been given overviews of tour safety protocols, they’re expecting to hear more detailed plans in Wednesday’s conference calls.

They’ve got a lot of questions.

Like, what about the rumor they’re hearing? Will there be a charter flight to Scotland?

The AIG Women’s British Open and ASI Ladies Scottish Open both announced Tuesday that they are on track to stage their events next month.

“I would feel a lot more comfortable if there’s charter flight taking us to Scotland and back,” Stanford said.

The United Kingdom is allowing exemptions from quarantine for select athletes arriving from other countries, with Scotland’s government giving assurances it will honor the exemptions.

But what happens if a foreign player tests positive while in Scotland and has to spend 1o to 14 days there under quarantine?

“That’s my question,” Kerr said. “Traveling’s a little daunting in that respect. That’s the scary part.”

Kerr wonders what kind of assistance the LPGA will provide players who test positive?

“I know we won’t be getting a $75,000 stipend,” she said.

That was a reference to the PGA Tour’s financial support of its members after they test positive while following protocols.

“I don’t know if we’re even going to get a stipend,” Kerr said. “If we do get one, it probably won’t be much, not what the PGA Tour is giving players. It’s another example of the difference between the men and the women. I’m not saying we deserve the same money, but in 2020, the disparities shouldn’t be what they are.”

Martin won’t be in Scotland, but she’s rooting for a successful event.

“I have no doubt that everybody running the British is taking every single precaution,” she said. “I hope there’s a chartered flight over there. I hope everything goes smoothly, and I know testing protocols will be tip top, that every stone will be turned, every protection given.

“It’s my best wish everyone stays healthy.”

Players will be listening Wednesday to hear the plan for doing that.