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PGA Tour working to keep all safe and get foreign players on U.S. soil

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Making the most of a bad situation is pretty much the only option during these surreal times and nothing proves that point better than the PGA Tour’s 37-page blueprint for a return to competition next month at Colonial.

The Health and Safety Plan was unveiled to mixed reviews late Tuesday, but given the complexities of holding a golf tournament – even a golf tournament without fans – it was an impressively thorough snapshot of how the game and the pandemic will quickly converge.

What the Tour dubbed “layered testing” walks the fine line between the obvious need for COVID-19 testing and the current lack of available tests in some communities. Even the desire to create a tournament “bubble” for players, caddies and officials appears to check all the right boxes, and the bullet points of the plan take social distancing to an impressive extreme.

That’s not to say there’s no room for improvement.

What will it be like for PGA Tour players competing in the age of the coronavirus? Here’s a look, based on the Tour’s safety guidelines.

It remains to be seen how far the Tour is willing to take this experiment. The plan outlines, in great detail, what would happen in the case of a positive test. The player or caddie would be quarantined for at least 10 days and removed from the competition and the Tour would trace all contact that person had. But what would happen if there’s a second positive test? Or a third? Or a fourth?

“No, there’s not a specific number that we’re focused on,” said Andy Levinson, the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration, when asked if there was a specific number of positive tests that would prompt a suspension of play. “We haven’t identified a specific number, but obviously if it was a large number then we would have to evaluate the situation.”

If “large number” isn’t specific enough, understand that the Tour concedes that this plan will evolve with time and circumstance.

The Tour also seems to be at a crossroads with its international members. According to officials, there is a minimum of 25 Tour members currently outside the United States at the moment and at least 35 caddies.

With less than four weeks before the scheduled restart June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the clock is official running for those players and caddies to return to the U.S. and endure the mandated 14-day quarantine on both sides of the Atlantic before they could play an event.

“We are working with the federal government to facilitate the return of players and caddies who are currently residing outside of the United States, and we’re optimistic that that’s going to occur,” Levinson said.

The PGA Tour will rely on transportation and lodging options like chartered flights and predetermined host hotels as it looks to limit the “bubble” for players.

Despite that optimism, Levinson was asked if there was any way to circumvent or expedite the quarantine for those international players and caddies. “[The plan] is currently in place, and it is likely to continue, and so it is imperative that those constituents that we have that need to come back in the United States do so at least two weeks prior to our return to competition,” he conceded.

Exactly what that means for players like Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood remains to be seen. Both players returned to England when play was halted in March and, at least in Fleetwood’s case, plan to play next month at Colonial. Would they be allowed to properly practice and prepare while quarantined?

For Molinari some sort of mini-camp before he returns to the Tour would be a necessity considering his golf has been limited to hitting off a mat in his garden because of the shelter-in-place requirements in the United Kingdom.

“He has been doing fitness and an hour or so of garden-net ball hitting,” Molinari’s swing coach, Denis Pugh, said in a text message. “It’s not ideal but everyone is healthy which is much more important.”

Currently, Molinari is not committed to any of the first few tournaments, but Pugh said the plan is to play again this year “as he feels ready.”

Fleetwood’s plans are more pressing. The Englishman is committed to playing the first three events back, including the Charles Schwab Challenge, but restrictions would require 28 days of self-isolation.

“I’m not going to travel to America and stay away for four months, that is simply not a consideration,” Fleetwood told The Guardian.

There’s nothing optimal about the current situation for Fleetwood and Molinari, but then the same could be said for nearly every aspect of society at the moment. The Tour knows the plan to return to competition isn’t perfect, but it’s good and that’s a start.