Golf: Questions abound for 2021 after sport suffers Major Covid-19 disruptions

Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of The Masters on Nov 15.
Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of The Masters on Nov 15.PHOTO: REUTERS

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA (AFP) - Dustin Johnson's victory at the 84th Masters completed a Major golf year disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic that produced historic winners, but also posed major questions for 2021.

Golf leaders were forced to cancel the 2020 British Open and other Majors were rescheduled, the shuffled line-up capped by an autumn Masters five months before its 2021 edition is planned in its usual April spot.

"What was really heartening about the whole thing is that the organisations really worked together in the best interests of the sport," Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said. "I think we came up with a pretty good result."

The PGA Championship was shifted from May to August and the US Open moved from June to September, both staying on scheduled courses.

The British Open was planned for Royal St George's in July but called off in April. It is set to be played there next year, with the PGA Championship set for Kiawah Island in May and the US Open at Torrey Pines in June, presumably after a Masters in April.

While Ridley plans for the 2021 Masters despite "a health crisis unlike the world has faced in our lifetimes," no one knows what is coming before April, from vaccine hopes to tighter lockdown laws.

The United States is bracing for a grim winter amid skyrocketing coronavirus cases, with one million new infections in less than a week taking the total number past 11 million, with more than 246,000 fatalities.

"I'm hopeful we'll see improved conditioned regarding this virus, but April is less than five months away, so there's certainly no assurance of that," Ridley said.

"We'll have to give it some lead time for April, so we're just going to make the decision based on the best information possible. But we do have hopes the tournament in April will be closer to normal than it is right now."

Spectators were banned from the Majors, leaving an awkward silence to replace the cheers of fans, but 2,000 people a day were allowed at a Masters tune-up in Houston, a first step to awakening the roars despite the virus in the US.

"I'm encouraged by what took place last week in Houston," Ridley said. "We'll be interested to see kind of how that went."

The USPGA Tour shut down in March for three months, returning in June without fans and finding safety protocols that have allowed events to continue.

"This year is unlike anything we've ever experienced," 15-time Major winner Tiger Woods said. "We're lucky to have the opportunity to have our sport continue to go."

Golf participation is growing, people seeking an outdoor activity easily allowing for face masks and social distancing. The opportunity was not lost on Woods.

"Our sport is actually growing right now," he said. "Circumstances that have allowed our game to grow and flourish."