SPORTS-GLF-TRAVELERS-CORONAVIRUS-HC

Brooks Koepka watches his tee shot on the 5th hole during the third round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., on June 23, 2018. This year's Travelers Championship will continue as planned despite a golfer and two caddies testing positive for coronavirus. (John Woike/Hartford Courant/TNS)

 

CROMWELL, Conn. — The 2020 Travelers Championship will continue as planned this week in Connecticut, despite a golfer and two caddies testing positive for coronavirus.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan flew to Connecticut Wednesday following the positive tests of player Cameron Champ and two caddies, to address the media and fans. He said the event at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell will continue, but the Tour will continue to adjust its safety protocol.

Brooks Koepka, the fourth-ranked golfer in the world, and Graeme McDowell, a former U.S. Open champ withdrew from the Travelers Championship on Wednesday after their caddies tested positive for coronavirus. Their withdrawal follows Cameron Champ, who tested positive Tuesday. Koepka's brother, who qualified Monday, also withdrew as a precaution, as did golfer No. 5-ranked Webb Simpson, Monahan said.

"This has been a big adjustment for everybody. I think everybody's intentions have been very good," Monahan said. "They've taken their responsibility seriously. I don't question that at all. ... I think over the first couple weeks we've seen some instances where we've gotten a little bit lax or away from protocol."

Koepka, ranked No. 4 in the world, tested negative, but thought he should withdraw "out of an abundance of caution." McDowell's caddie, Ken Comboy, tested positive but did not travel to Connecticut after showing symptoms over the weekend. McDowell played a practice round Tuesday with the Koepka brothers.

"I'm going to pull out to protect everybody else. I think it's the right thing to do," Koepka told GolfWeek. "I don't want to risk anyone's life if they have respiratory issues or underlying conditions. The only way this tour can continue is if guys to do this sort of thing and be proactive about it."

Koepka told GolfWeek that he, caddie Ricky Elliot and coach Claude Harmon III each tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday. The three took another test on Tuesday after a practice round, and while Koepka and Harmon III tested negative, Elliot tested positive.

Nick Watney was the first golfer to test positive since the Tour resumed its schedule. His positive test came at last week's RBC Heritage tournament in Hilton Head, S.C.

Golfer Justin Thomas said in an interview Wednesday he's "not worried" but has been guilty of fist bumping people over the last two weeks, although he has tried to improve.

"The thing that's most important is just everybody needs to do their part," Thomas said. "But at the end of the day, just you can't be selfish. It's a big-picture thing, and you need to do not only what's best for you but most importantly what's best for the Tour, because one mistake that someone makes could end up ruining other guys or potentially suspend the Tour again."

News of Koepka and McDowell withdrawing came within minutes of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announcing a plan to require some travelers to those states to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Travelers from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah, and Texas are all required to quarantine.

Many of the golfers at Travelers, along with their caddies, families and others they may travel with, recently arrived from South Carolina, which is on the quarantine list. Lamont said he was confident of the tournament's protocols and that those who test positive will be "taken off the battlefield."

"Based on where we are, with now 27 states seeing a rise, it's a concern that we'll continue to closely monitor. We're here with the full support of local and state officials," Monahan said. "I know that the governor reaffirmed his support of us getting the Travelers under way."

Watney, Thomas said, got tested after the WHOOP fitness tracking ring he was wearing notified him his immune system was slightly weaker and his respiratory rate spiked.

" ... He never would have been able to know to get tested until potentially later in the week after he'd already played, after he'd already seen somebody, after he'd maybe touched this or done that, and because of that _ and it's crazy to say, but because of his WHOOP device we could have been screwed right now because he could have played the rest of the week and ended up contaminating or infecting many other people and we could have been behind the 8-ball severely," Thomas said.

Even after the announcement of the positive tests, a handful of golfers remained on the grounds of TPC River Highlands playing a practice round.

Outside of the those who travel by bus or mobile home, players stay at a tour-designated hotel, the Marriott in Hartford. Players and caddies are screened and given daily questionnaires and thermal readings and a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) nasal swab test once on site. They were also screened prior to traveling. The tour has stated it would not publicize positive tests, in accordance with HIPAA, but with Watney being listed as "withdrawn" on the leaderboard, it became clear that something was amiss. Since Watney, a formal announcement has been made by players.

While on the course, players are expected to observe social-distancing guidelines, refrain from shaking hands, high-fives and fist-bumps. Only players are supposed to pull clubs from their bags, in addition to tees, gloves and balls, while only caddies can handle flagsticks and bunker rakes, and must wipe them down after each use.

Koepka said Tuesday that he had been taking coronavirus seriously: he travels with a personal chef, brings his own workout equipment on the road with him, and has every member of his team on "lockdown" so that they don't risk exposure to the virus.

"There's no reason that anybody should leave the house," he said. "I'm taking this seriously. I've had three months off with an injury, four months off with injury, three months off with sitting at home because of COVID. I've been eager to go play. I've been dying to get out here and do what I do, and I love playing, I love competing, and there's reason for me to go out and do anything other than come to the golf course."

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