The PGA Tour called off The Players Championship late on Thursday night, along with its next three events, amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, making it just the latest sports league in the country to do so.
While the decision to do so was made later than many would have liked — the first round of the tournament proceeded normally with fans on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass despite the NBA, college basketball tournaments and others suspending operations on Wednesday and Thursday morning — commissioner Jay Monahan said they realized ultimately on Thursday night that it was time to end it.
“I’m a fighter. I wanted to fight for our players and our fans and for this Tour to show how golf can unify and inspire,” Monahan said. “But as the situation continued to escalate and there seemed to be more unknowns, it ultimately became a matter of when, not if, we would need to call it a day.”
Monahan still believes in his decision to start The Players Championship normally, something that drew plenty of criticism, and in their attempt to hold it and the next few events without fans. But as the situation with the outbreak continued to grow worse and other major sports leagues and even theme parks just hours away in Orlando decided to cancel or close, Monahan realized it was time for the Tour to make a move.
“Even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we’ve done all the right things, we can’t proceed, and it’s not right to proceed,” Monahan said. “And when you use doing the right thing as the litmus test, to me those two things together were really the things that drove the decision.”
Rory McIlroy, others defend Tour’s decision
Rory McIlroy had gone to bed early on Thursday night, preparing for an early 8:46 a.m. tee time in the second round of The Players Championship.
He was in bed before receiving the text that the PGA Tour had canceled the rest of the tournament, and its next three, due to the outbreak. The Masters also announced that it would be postponed to a later date on Friday.
When McIlroy, the top-ranked golfer in the world, finally learned of the decision, however, he stood by it.
“It's the right decision, of course it's the right decision,'' McIlroy said on Friday while gathering his things from TPC Sawgrass, via ESPN. “I stood up there yesterday after playing and was like, doing what they did was a step in the right direction.
“But they were saying they were taking it hour-by-hour and seeing how it would all play out, and here we are.”
McIlroy wasn’t alone. Most of the players who spoke on Friday were right there with him — especially international players like Bernd Wiesberger and Jon Rahm, both of whom have elderly relatives living in Europe.
Rahm said he couldn’t believe how many times he had washed his hands on Friday morning alone while worrying about his elderly grandmother back in Spain. Wiesberger, who is from Austria, was ready to get back home and help his family despite the confusing nature of the European travel ban put in place by President Donald Trump this week. He said he is on the last Austrian Airlines flight available back to Vienna on Friday.
“Obviously everyone would love to see some golf, but in the bigger picture I'm in constant contact with family and relatives in Europe and it's pretty bad there,” Wiesberger said, via ESPN. “I'm looking forward to going back home and being with them and help out over there, so in the bigger picture just having a tournament here and that's it.
“It's unprecedented times. We all need to kind of stick together and do the right thing for everyone, for the elderly, to not have anyone affected that doesn't need to be, and therefore I think it's good we're packing up today and kind of going home and try to have as minimal social contact as possible and try not to spread it any further.”
While it’s obviously disappointing for golf fans to see the first major championship of the year postponed, and golf’s “fifth major” canceled in the middle, players know that at the end of the day it’s just golf.
“It’s just a game that we get to play, which is pretty special, but outside of golf and sports and stuff like that, life’s a lot bigger than sports and golf,” Rickie Fowler said, via the Tour. “To have some tournaments canceled or postponed, it is what it is. There’s a lot bigger things than us and golf. It’s about everyone being healthy and in a good place.”
When will play continue?
Monahan, like many other commissioners, isn’t sure yet when they will be able to resume playing golf.
With the cancelation of The Masters, which is not run by the PGA Tour, the next event on the schedule is now the RBC Heritage on April 12 in South Carolina.
“We need to continue to understand what’s happening on the ground in the markets where we would be returning to play, continue to work with our partners in those markets, continue to understand what’s happening with the CDC and the World Health Organization, and then ultimately that will guide our decision,” Monahan said, via the Tour. “We’re going to make sure that we protect the safety and well-being of all of our constituents as we make that decision.”
More from Yahoo Sports: