Columnist image
Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter


Not only are golf’s majors going to have different dates in 2020, they will also have different looks.

As the revised schedule for the remaining three events gets closer and closer, it gets clearer as to how the events will come off. The bodies that govern them have had to make adjustments, both minor and major, to adhere to various regulations brought in for the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s how each is pivoting to pull off their tournament.

U.S. Open

The American championship is scheduled for Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., from Sept. 17-20, although it’s no longer so open.

The United States Golf Association announced Monday it is cancelling all its local and sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. Instead, the association said, it will bring in a variety of exemption categories to fill the field.

“As you can imagine, this was an incredibly difficult decision, as qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,” said John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA in a release. “We take great pride in the fact that many thousands typically enter to pursue their dream of qualifying for a USGA championship and we deeply regret that they will not have that opportunity this year. But this structure provides the best path forward for us to conduct these championships in 2020.”

Qualifying is one of the trademarks of the U.S. Open. In recent years more than 9,000 golfers have entered the two-stage qualifying process, resulting in about half of the final field of 156 players.

There were 108 local qualifiers scheduled and then 12 sectional qualifiers, including one in Canada at Rattlesnake Point Golf Club in Milton, Ont.

The USGA did not specify what the exemption categories would be but did indicate some spots will go to amateur players. It also did not mention whether the field would remain at 156. The September date means fewer hours of sunlight compared to the usual June date.

There has been no final decision made on whether fans will be allowed on site. It’s possible a limited number might be permitted but the final decision will be made at a later date.

As well, although there have been reports that the USGA has looked at alternative sites for the tournament, at present it still intends to move forward at Winged Foot.

PGA Championship

After many years of being held in August and being golf’s final major, the PGA Championship moved to May last year. Now it’s back to a familiar spot in August but in an unfamiliar place as the season’s first major.

The event is set for Aug. 6-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

“By circumstances we are back to the week we had originally planned to be at,” said the association’s Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer for the PGA of America, in a conference call last Monday. “There have been no big changes with the date change. Everything we had planned on and how we want the course to play is the same. It’s really just a question of adapting the agronomy plan.”

The course and the weather shouldn’t be an issue for the tournament then. In fact, the new date may improve things. But there is still the possibility that an alternative site may be needed. The State of California has started lifting some restrictions, but whether that will allow for hosting a major championship is not clear.

“We have been talking about [the possibility of moving],” Haigh said. “Ultimately, it’s going to depend on what the city, county and state allow us to do and not do. Safety of everyone is utmost in our mind.”

Even if it does go ahead as expected, no decision has been made as to whether fans will be allowed.

Seth Waugh, the PGA’s chief executive officer, said in several interviews in April, that the association is prepared to play without spectators and construction on bleachers and other on-site infrastructure will move ahead.

The Masters

On Sunday, during an interview on the TaylorMade Driving Relief match broadcast, U.S. President Donald Trump may have let slip some plans the organizers of the Masters might limit the number of patrons.

"And we want to have big crowds for the Masters,” said Trump. “I know, right now, that's not what they're planning, but you never know what happens. Things can happen very quickly.”

The Masters, slated for Nov. 12-15, has the longest lead time of any major and can certainly hope for some easing of restrictions by the time the first tee shot is set to be struck. Whether that means no, some, or lots of patrons will be determined at a later date, but plans are reportedly in place for every situation.

The November date may help Augusta National with that part of the tournament organization but the weather could be something totally out of its control.

On average, the highs in Augusta, Ga., during November are five degrees cooler than in April. As well, there is approximately two hours less sunlight meaning tee times will need to be moved up and the possibility of a two-tee start.

The field will be made up of 92 players who qualified for what would have been an April Masters and possibly four more who were inside the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking when it was frozen on March 15. Any golfer who wins a tournament when the PGA Tour resumes play on June 11 will qualify for the 2021 Masters.

As for course conditions, it may play somewhat longer and softer due to wetter conditions. A north wind at that time of the year will also change how the course is played with the two back nine par 5s playing into the wind.