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Masters COVID rules, explained: Everything to know about PGA's coronavirus protocols in 2020

Sporting News — customerservice@sportingnews.com (Sporting News)

If your body clock depends on golf tournaments to keep track of the time of year, the Masters being played in November likely has you way out of whack.

But that's what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to the sports world, putting some of the most celebrated events at times they've never been played before. The coronavirus is far from gone, having already caused multiple withdrawals from the Masters. COVID-19 hit some of the world's top players earlier in the resumed PGA Tour season, too. 

The Masters provides the most well-known scene in golf at Augusta National Golf Club, although the trees this year will be filled with autumn colors. But for the golfers competing, a negative COVID-19 test will be required before they can even set foot on the historic grounds. Here's what you need to know about the PGA's testing protocols, which closely follow the CDC's, along with which players have already tested positive for the coronavirus and what that means for them.

MORE: Betting odds, predictions for 2020 Masters

How are golfers tested for COVID-19 at the Masters?

The PGA Tour's aim is to have its events be in "bubble-like" settings, although that term doesn't operate in the same function as it did for the NBA, NHL, WNBA, MLS and NWSL. The players stay in tournament-sanctioned hotels, but they travel to events of their own accord and can dine of their own accord, for example.

In late June, the PGA put into place more stringent pre-tournament testing. Players and caddies are required to return a negative "in-market test" before being allowed into facilities at all, and that's after being tested before traveling to the tournament. Prior to late June, players could be on site and practice outside before their arrival test results returned, but in this case, every player and caddie must test negative before stepping foot on Augusta National's grounds at all. 

That policy applies to all people allowed inside the "bubble," be that event staffers or trainers or instructors or anyone else.

What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?

By Monday morning of Masters week, two players had already withdrawn from the field due to positive COVID-19 tests: Joaquin Niemann and Sergio Garcia.

The PGA's COVID-19 protocols are meant to basically fall in line with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines. In accordance with CDC guidelines, a player/caddie who tests positive for COVID-19 but hasn't shown symptoms can return to competition if the player tests negative twice, with a minimum of 24 hours between tests. However, that won't prevent a player from needing to withdraw from the Masters if those two negative tests can't come back before tee time Thursday.

The PGA is also following the CDC model when it comes to guidelines for symptomatic tests. A player/caddie that tests positive with symptoms and continues to test positive can only return when: 

  • "At least 72 hours have passed since recovery, which is defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath);" and,
  • "At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared."

Additionally, "any player or caddie who meets the above criteria but continues to return a positive COVID-19 test will either compete as a single in competition or be grouped with players under the same situation, and he will not have access to indoor facilities on site." That's to account for the CDC indicating that PCR tests have shown a possibility of detecting the virus in RNA even after the infectious virus is no longer present.

In summary: A player who tests positive for COVID-19 at the Masters almost certainly won't have the timeline to still play in the tournament. And since they weren't supposed to be on the grounds before returning a negative test, it means that player would never arrive at Augusta National.

PGA players who tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020

In addition to Garcia and Niemann, who have withdrawn from the Masters due to COVID-19 positives, the following is a list of players still in the Masters field who have tested positive but since recovered:

  • Cameron Champ
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Tony Finau
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Adam Scott

The PGA follows the CDC's guidelines on testing when it comes to the players who have already tested positive. Following recovery from a positive test, a player isn't required to receive a new COVID-19 test by the PGA for three months

Of the players on the list above, Champ and Frittelli have both surpassed that three-month threshold and will be subject to the same COVID-19 testing as the rest of the field. Scheffler, Finau, Johnson and Scott aren't required to test since their positive tests came less than three months ago. Johnson told the Los Angeles Times that he'd be "nervous for sure" if he was waiting on test results to play in the Masters.

Why are there no fans at Augusta National?

Augusta National Golf Club announced Aug. 12 that there would be no fans at the Masters in November. The club chairman, Fred Ridley, issued the following statement at the time of the announcement:

In that same announcement, Ridley specified that the club was hopeful of having spectators at the 2021 Masters. Most tournaments since the PGA's return haven't allowed fans, although last weekend's Houston Open sold 2,000 tickets to each round of the tournament.

When is the Masters normally played?

The Masters is almost always scheduled so that it's final round comes on the second Sunday in April. That means that the entire tournament takes place on dates in April, with no possibility of a March start.

The four rounds of the 2019 Masters, won by Tiger Woods, took place between April 11 and April 14, 2019.

COVID-19 and golf handshakes

As part of the PGA's Health and Safety Plan released before the resumption of play, the tour discouarged any form of on-course handshakes, including the post-round handshakes that are common on the course. They also outlined which portions of golf etiquette should be undertaken by a player or a caddie.

The player is expected to remove and replace clubs from his bag and retrieve the ball from the hole, while the caddie can rake bunkers and remove the flagstick when needed (before cleaning the rake/flagstick after touching it).