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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Did Augusta really need to put Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at risk in the time of COVID-19?

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus are in the high-risk group for COVID-19.
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus are in the high-risk group for COVID-19.
Image: (Getty Images)

Hear me out.

I know we’re all tired of addressing COVID-19 concerns, but I thought this needed to be acknowledged.

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I’m not at Augusta National, and have no idea whether people there are following coronavirus protocols, as the tournament is supposedly following CDC guidelines.

In order to play, players must test negative for the virus. So far, two players have had to withdraw after testing positive, Joaquin Niemann and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

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And the players are in a pseudo “bubble,” having to stay in tournament sanctioned hotels, yet can go to and from the course on their own, and dine wherever they please.

So it’s not much of a “bubble.”

There are no fans… correction, patrons (ugh), so that will go a long way toward making this a safe event.

But watching the start of the tournament I asked myself: Why are they still doing the traditional Honorary Starters?

As per usual, golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player got the tournament going with traditional tee shots from hole No. 1. And while there were no patrons in attendance, it sure looked like it with the number of club member green jackets surrounding the tee box. And while it appeared most if not all were wearing masks, Nicklaus, Player and Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley were not.

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Jack Nicklaus is 80 years old. Gary Player is 85. If there were ever a year the “Tradition Unlike Any Other” ditched one of its traditions, it should have been this year and this tradition. Clearly both legends are at serious risk of getting gravely ill from COVID-19.

According to the CDC, people between the ages 75-84 are eight times more likely to be hospitalized than folks 18-29, and 220 times more likely to die. People 85 and over are 630 times more likely to die.

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Nicklaus and his wife Barbara have each already had the virus, one that we now know you can get again.

“Back in mid-March, Barbara and I both contracted coronavirus,” Nicklaus told Jim Nantz back in July. “Barbara was asymptomatic and I had a sore throat and a cough. It didn’t last very long and we were very, very fortunate. Barbara and I are both of the age, both of us 80 years old, that is an at-risk age.”

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Nicklaus fully admits he and his wife were fortunate back in March. Why even risk getting the virus a second time?

When most people are doing all they can to keep away from their elderly family members, it seems the golf community should be doing the same. And at the very least, setting a good example, especially as we’re hitting record-case counts daily.

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Did Nicklaus and Player really need to put themselves at risk for this annual nostalgic photo-op?

 “We’re so thankful to stage this event safely,” Ridley said.

Let’s pray he’s right and it was.

Been editing/writing sports for some time, mainly in NYC and a stint in LA.

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