The 2020 Masters Tournament, golf’s first major championship and a signature, springtime event in American sports, was postponed Friday morning by its host, the Augusta National Golf Club, because of the coronavirus pandemic that has led to sweeping changes across the world.
The tournament, known as one of the most-watched sports broadcasts annually that carries traditions dating to 1934, was scheduled for Apr. 9-12. The club, based in Augusta, Ga., said it hoped the event could be staged at some later date.
Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National, said in a statement:
“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision. We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.”
Thursday night, the PGA Tour, which conducts the bulk of the professional golf events in North America, announced it was canceling several tournaments and suspending operations until the week of the Masters. That included the Players Championship, which was canceled after one round was played Thursday. In total, six events have been canceled or pushed back, clearing the calendar for a month with no men’s pro golf.
Friday morning, as many of the world’s top golfers arrived at the T.P.C.-Sawgrass course that hosts the Players Championship to collect their golf clubs and clean out their lockers, resignation mixed with hope that the tournament might yet be played this year.
“To me it almost seemed like it was just inevitable as far as where things were heading across our country in sports,” said Rickie Fowler, one of the top-ranked American golfers.
Minutes later, his peer, Tony Finau, smiled and said: “I’m very happy they didn’t cancel it entirely. There’s hope.”
Justin Thomas, the world’s fourth ranked player, said that once the Players Championship was canceled, he was certain the Masters would be, as well. “And that had me bummed,” Thomas said. “But hearing that they’re going to try to make it happen this year was kind of a lift.”
Augusta National usually closes from May to October because scorching summer temperatures turn the fairways brown. If the Masters is to be rescheduled, October, or perhaps even September, would be possibilities.
“I don’t care if it’s 25 degrees and nobody is there,” Thomas said. “I’m going to go play it with a chance to win the Masters.”
The Masters is the first golf major championship of the year and has been played every year since the mid-1930s, except from 1943 to 1945 when it was canceled due to World War II.
Tiger Woods, in one of the most memorable sporting events of 2019, came from behind to win last year’s Masters. It was Woods’s 15th major championship and his fifth Masters title. In the end, this year’s postponement may turn out to be advantageous for Woods, who has been sidelined in recent weeks resting his surgically repaired back. Before Friday, it appeared Woods was not going to have adequate time to prepare for the Masters. Now, he may have months to get ready. And in 2019, he was playing some of his best golf late in the year, winning his 82nd PGA Tour event and turning in a virtuoso, undefeated performance at the Presidents Cup.
At 8 a.m. Friday, two hours before the Masters was postponed, the PGA Tour held a news conference to explain its cancellation of the Players Championship and three other events in March and April. One day earlier, they had optimistically said they hoped to continue playing in the near future, but would bar fans from attending the events. Jay Monahan, the tour’s commissioner, said several factors led to the overnight turnaround.
Several non-American golfers, worried about the safety of their families abroad, were uneasy continuing to play golf in northern Florida and in Texas, where the tour was soon headed. At least one, C.T. Pan of Taiwan, pulled out of the Players Championship on Thursday before it was canceled, citing safety concerns. The tour was also under pressure to fall in line with virtually every other mainstream American sports organization, which had already suspended competition in the cascading fallout of coronavirus concerns.
Then, as the sun was setting Thursday evening, Rory McIlroy, the game’s top-ranked golfer, completed his round and promptly asked the tour to test every player for the virus, as well as other associated personnel, like caddies.
Monahan, however, said he was most swayed by news he received at 9 p.m., when two Florida theme parks, Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort, announced they were closing.
“That was the final thing,” Monahan said Friday. “We can’t proceed, and it’s not right to proceed.”
Players applauded the move.
“It’s the right decision,” McIlroy said. “If in a few weeks time, even if this all dies down and everything is OK, it’s still the right decision.”
In the wake of the moves by Augusta National and the PGA Tour, the competitive pro golf world, which was just entering its prime season, will be on an indefinite hiatus.
Standing in the sun a few yards from the first tee of the T.P.C.-Sawgrass course on Friday, Thomas waved a hand at the lush green grass that stretched for hundreds of yards in every direction.
“You look at this, how beautiful it is, and you never think something like this could happen,” he said. “Selfishly, I want to play golf. But I know this goes way beyond golf. The health and safety of everybody is the priority.”