Despite other golf majors preceding it currently being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Open Championship is on the verge of being outright canceled, according to Golf Digest, which said late Wednesday that a decision could be announced by the R&A as early as Thursday.
On Thursday morning, the R&A disputed this report in a statement from chief executive Martin Slumbers: “We are continuing to work through our options for The Open this year, including postponement. Due to a range of external factors, that process is taking some time to resolve. We are well aware of the importance of being able to give clear guidance to fans, players and everyone involved and are working to resolve this as soon as we can. We will give a further update as soon as we are in a position to do so and thank everyone for their support and understanding in this challenging situation.”
Scheduled to begin on July 16, The Open is fourth in the annual major rotation, contested after the Masters in April, PGA Championship in May and U.S. Open in June. The Masters and PGA Championship have been postponed, and it has previously been reported that the U.S. Open would be as well, though the USGA has not made an official announcement.
Wimbledon, which was scheduled to begin on June 29, was canceled by the All England Club on Wednesday. A similar cancellation would result in The Open not being played for the first time since World War II in 1945.
If the report is true, it would seem as if the R&A is trying to get out ahead of what is beginning to become more clear, that sporting events are not likely to be played by this summer because of the danger the coronavirus poses on all fronts, even in a sport like golf that could technically be played while following social distancing guidelines. The other interesting part of this is that, like Wimbledon, the R&A has insurance to think about, according to Golf Digest.
Part of the reason the championship is being canceled rather than postponed like the Masters and PGA Championship has to do with insurance, a source says. Similar to Wimbledon, the R&A has a policy that shields against a global pandemic, and a source indicated the Open would have to cancel by a certain date in order to collect on its insurance premium.
“The R&A is the most [insured] of all the tournaments,” a source said. “They have complete cancellation insurance. I just don’t see any golf [being played] before August.”
The big question is what this would do to the rest of the majors if the R&A does eventually cancel The Open. There had previously been talk of simply inverting the major slate and starting the major season with the Open in July followed by the PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Masters later in the fall.
Would golf’s governing bodies hold three majors without the fourth? Is this a signal that golf in 2020 is pretty much over?
The United Kingdom has already seen several thousand deaths due to COVID-19, and with just over 100 days until the Open was to begin this summer, the R&A could decide there isn’t enough time to hold out hope that things would settle or even to postpone the event until later in the year.
The problem with a postponement is that, because of where it sits on the map, The Open often has the least sunlight of the four majors. It’s an event that sends everyone off the first tee, and with big fields and waning time as the year moves on, it would be difficult to host beyond the summer.
One question as it relates to that event is what happens to Royal St. George’s as a host if the R&A cancels this year. The 150th Open in 2021 is slated for St. Andrews, but now the 2021 Open will no longer be the 150th. So does St. George’s get another run at it next year, or does St. Andrews get the 149th playing? Minuscule questions in the face of a pandemic, of course, but the effects of this clearly will be felt for many years both in and out of the sports world.