Big blow as all four Irish withdraw from Joburg Open

Adam McKendry

Jonathan Caldwell (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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All four Irishmen competing at the Joburg Open in South Africa have withdrawn from the event overnight due to the growing concern over the new Covid-19 variant discovered in the country.

Jonathan Caldwell, Paul Dunne, Niall Kearney and Cormac Sharvin all pulled out of the tournament after the first day as the UK government introduced restrictions on travellers from South Africa in order to contain the B.1.1.529 variant.

Scientific experts have warned that this variant could be the most dangerous so far, with initial studies showing that it is more transmissible and has the potential to evade immunity.

In an early attempt to curtail the spread of the variant, the UK government has announced that any travellers arriving to the UK from South Africa from 4am on Sunday onwards will have to isolate for 10 days upon their return.

That has sparked a mass withdrawal from the Joburg Open, with 13 British or Irish based players withdrawing overnight, and it is expected several more will follow suit.

“I’m just not sure that everyone is aware,” Paul Dunne explained of the moving situation to RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.

“I went to bed early last night and was up early this morning and I didn’t really look at my phone. I’d three holes to finish in my first round and when I came in, I turned my phone on and I had messages from everyone asking me if I was going to go to the airport or stay and play. That’s when I started to look into it.

“I think a few people are on the course without a real idea of what’s going on, but some people are finding it hard, I’ve heard people can’t get a flight until Sunday evening. The only flights available are through Ethiopia and I think with the stuff in Ethiopia [ongoing conflict] nobody fancies travelling through there either. Bit of a minefield at the minute.”

Although the Tour is yet to make a statement, Dunne confirmed that players wouldn’t face sanctions for withdrawing.

“They just said that they are still confident that the tournament bubbles are a safe place to be,” he added.

“The problem they’re going to have is that most of the staff are UK based and you’re supposed to be here three weeks, and I’m assuming the staff aren’t going to want to stay for three weeks because that means they’ll have to quarantine and miss Christmas. So I’m sure there is a lot of internal stuff going on between them.

“We haven’t got an update from them but they’ve just said that if we want to withdraw we could withdraw without fines or without penalties or anything like that.”

Kearney had led the Irish pack at one-under, five off leaders Angel Hidalgo and Thriston Lawrence, with Caldwell level-par with two holes of his first round still to complete, while battling to make the cut anyway were Dunne at three-over and Sharvin seven-over.

All four had been on the entry list for next week’s SA Open Championship in Sun City – and, while the entry list hadn’t been announced yet, it seems likely they would have been in for the Alfred Dunhill Championship the week after, too – but now their years will come to a premature end.

Currently, 13 British players are still in the field in Johannesburg, with some having already played part of their second rounds, but it is yet to be seen if there will be more withdrawals as the day wears on.

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