Below in italics is what I started writing Thursday night for posting Friday morning:
Hey, PGA Tour: The sports nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Following the most grimly astonishing 24 hours in American sports history — a least, where no one died — it appears the golfers have the fruited plain to themselves.
For awhile, anyway.
The Players Championship had its first round Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL., without a gallery but with a warning from superstar Rory McIlroy.
“All the tour players and people who are involved need to get tested and make sure no one’s got it,” he told reporters before play began. And if there’s a positive test?
“We need to shut it down then,” he said.
I kid you not, at the moment I finished typing that, my phone pinged with a news alert:
The PGA Tour announces it is canceling the remainder of the TPC as well as the next three events . . .
I don’t know whether McIlroy was prophesying, speculating or knew something. What I do know is I’ve run out of hands to slap upon my considerable forehead.
No one knows yet whether a golfer tested positive. What we do know is that the invisible coronavirus bug has brought the previously irresistible American sports machine to a dead stop. Even the industry’s most detached elites, the touring golf pros, have been brought to ground, same as the rest of us.
Epidemiologists will tell you that pandemics have been around for as long as humans have been around to host them. It’s true, but misses a point — never has there been a pandemic at a time when worldwide travel, communications and commercialization have been as easy as they are intense. Nowhere is that better expressed than in sports.
Teams and athletes from around the nation and the world flow almost seamlessly among events on a colossal schedule matrix supported by some fans who travel with them, more fans who await their presences, and all fans who follow them on a multitude of media platforms created by networks that profit from the passion. And then, everyone gambles on everything.
Until . . . full stop. For a bug.
The perpetual avalanche pauses mid-mountain.
America’s most popular team-sports export, the NBA, shocked the world Wednesday afternoon when a positive test for coronavirus in a single player caused it to abruptly suspend the season.
Absent infected players, MLS nevertheless made a similar decision, as did NHL. Even the NCAA caved, sacrificing its ridiculously appealing and lucrative March Madness, stopping one league tourney game at halftime Thursday. MLB ended spring training, and pushed back the season openers a minimum of two weeks.
Then Thursday evening, the PGA shut down the tour practically in the middle of its backswing.
In the interview session before his round, McIlroy made a point that helps explain why the sports leagues and tours had no choice but to slam both feet on the brake pedal — the NBA episode made the unknown real, and scarier than the loss of billions of dollars of revenue.
The idea of players becoming ill — or merely being carriers — then transmitting the virulent COVID-19 to teammates, staffers, opponents and fans was a horror-movie nightmare for the entire industry.
“More than anything, everyone needs to get tested,” McIlroy said. “I saw there’s commercial labs now that are testing at some capacity, I guess, and for us to keep playing on the PGA Tour, all the tour players and people who are involved need to get tested and make sure no one’s got it.
“Because everyone knows you can have it and not have symptoms and pass it on to someone who’s more susceptible to getting very ill from it.”
McIlroy gets it. But like most people in the the U.S., he can’t get tested. Not even rich guys.
The massive failure of the U.S. health-care industry to be prepared with tests for an outbreak of this virulence is the proximate cause of the suddenness of shutdowns by businesses, sports, arts, schools and colleges.
The details of the failure are well explained in this Time magazine story here, leaving little doubt that the political agendas and decisions of the Trump administration contributed to the delay and derailment of effective responses.
As of Wednesday, the Center for Disease Control and state and public health labs have conducted more than 11,000 tests since mid-January. By comparison, South Korea has tested more than 200,000 of its population of 51 million since January. That is a travesty.
Back to McIlroy’s point: There is no physical way yet to test people without symptoms to clear them for the close-quarters work of snatching a rebound from Lebron, knocking Crosby off a puck, yelling at an umpire or hugging a caddy at the 18th green. For now, that testing capacity needs to go to the under-trained, under-paid, fearful staffs at nursing homes risking their lives to care for nearly helpless patients.
So if shutting down sports, and the other amusements, helps to slow COVID-19 until the federal government gets its sorry act together for a 21st-century response to a 21st-century pandemic, I’m good with that.
No matter how many times I have to re-write a column.