By Wes Kerr
The coronavirus pandemic has found its way into the PGA Tour “bubble” — right here on Hilton Head Island.
The Tour announced Friday afternoon that golfer Nick Watney had withdrawn from the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing prior to Friday’s second round after he tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the first member to do so. Per regulations, Watney was immediately withdrawn from further play in the tournament and put into isolation.
According to a PGA Tour statement, Watney exhibited COVID-related symptoms before arriving for Friday’s second round. After speaking with a physician, a test was administered, which resulted in a positive diagnosis.
“Nick will have the PGA Tour’s full support throughout his self-isolation and recovery period under CDC guidelines,” the Tour announced Friday afternoon. “For the health and well-being of all associated with the tournament and those within the community, the Tour has begun implementing its response plan in consultation with medical experts including working with those who may have had close contact with Nick.”
The 39-year-old golfer from Sacramento has played on the Tour since 2003 and has competed in 389 events over his career.
A Golf Channel analyst noticed a sluggish Watney in Wednesday’s practice round and stated that “his swing just wasn’t there,” before playing Thursday’s first round with Vaughn Taylor and Luke List.
“We knew Nick didn’t show up and he wasn’t feeling well, so there was some speculation in the beginning, but we didn’t think about it for a little bit,” List said after completing his round Friday. “Then after nine, we were informed. Yeah, it was hard to concentrate out there for me, just thinking about different stuff, and I wasn’t playing my best anyway.”
Rory McIlroy first got the news from a Watney text.
“He feels badly that he was here today at the golf course,” McIlroy said. “I said, look, it’s fine. If I was in your position, I probably would have been here, too. But then it’s the fact [of] who have you come into contact with and who you might have exposed. Look, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Until this thing’s over, we all just have to stay vigilant and keep our distance and wear our masks if we’re going out in public and keep washing our hands.”
The news comes on the same day that South Carolina announced a single-day high of 1,081 new cases. The coronavirus has recently hit the sports world in other leagues as well — 21 Clemson University football players were said to have tested positive for the virus, three Major League Baseball camps closed due to COVID-19 concerns, and an NHL training facility was shut down due to an outbreak of cases.
For now, the PGA Tour season will continue as scheduled, but the bubble has been breached.