Could it be another case of ‘they just don’t get it?’
In a nation that has officially lost the most citizens to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, one of the PGA Tour’s leading stars is questioning the ‘safety’ procedures to be in place at next week’s rescheduled 149th Open Championship.
Rickie Fowler is just as popular in the U.S. as he is in visiting Europe but that friendship is being tested by his apparent lack of support for the staging of golf’s oldest major. The 32-year-old, who shared fifth in the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s, is not happy ahead of returning to Royal St. George’s.
Last year’s Open was cancelled due to the pandemic and naturally the golf world was delighted when the St. Andrews based body announced that they would allow a 75% attendance or 32,000 onto the Kent course. Then last week, the R&A dispatched a five-page update to players, caddies, agents and coaches regarding health and safety protocols, an update that received a harsh response from those constituents, many believing said protocols were too stringent.
Fowler, living in a country that has seen some 620,000 die from the virus, joined that chorus with his comments following the third round at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
“I’m vaccinated or whatever you want to call the shots,” he said. “Unfortunately, I know going over there, it doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated or not.”
The R&A guidelines prohibit players from going to bars, restaurants, and grocery stores during tournament week, and they must stay at either approved hotels or private residences, which can be shared with up to four members of their team and not other players.
“Yeah, there’s definitely some concerns,” Fowler said. “Guys have been talking to me or have been talking to other guys, been making calls or sending texts back and forth with some of the people with the Open just with any questions or concerns that we have because there’s multiple things that come up as far as if there happens to be a couple people on the plane that test positive when you get there, you know, what happens with that?
“Obviously we’re all going into our own small bubbles, can’t be around other players. It seems like us as players, we’re jumping through some hurdles and dodging bullets and they’re having 32,000 fans a day at the tournament, so I don’t know. I can’t really answer questions clearly with all that going on.”
And looking back to 2011, Fowler has fond memories of being in contention ahead of finishing in a share of fifth behind Darren Clarke.
“I remember it decently well,” he said. “I remember that was my second Open. I actually made it through St. Andrews (in 2010) and then the first round and a half without hitting a bunker. I laid up in a bunker with a 6-iron at Royal St. George’s, that was the first bunker I was in in an Open Championship, so we’ll see if we can stay out of those.
“That’s a big thing in links golf, as you know. But I think a lot of the stuff that I was kind of focusing on this week with setup and making sure my grip’s in a good spot so I’m able to get through it and release properly, a lot of that will kind of be some preparation moving forward thinking of shots that I’ll be hitting at the Open, as well.”
Stay ahead of the game. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Irish Golfer news straight to your inbox!