The PGA Tour officially found its first positive COVID-19 case on Friday since play resumed last week.
At least one golfer thinks that lax safety measures and conditions around the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina, are to blame.
Justin Thomas, ahead of Saturday’s third round, knows Nick Watney was taking precautions this week before he tested positive — which forced him to withdraw from the event on Friday morning.
Others in the area, Thomas said, are not.
“I mean no offense to Hilton Head, but they’re seeming to not take it very seriously,” Thomas said, via Golf Digest. “It’s an absolute Zoo around here. There’s people everywhere. The beaches are absolutely packed. Every restaurant, from what I’ve seen when I’ve been driving by, is absolutely crowded. So I would say it’s no coincidence that there’s got to be a lot of stuff going on around here.
“Unfortunately, that’s not on Nick because I know he’s very cautious and has done everything he can, but I would say a lot of people in this area of Hilton Head just aren’t.”
Watney did not travel to the tournament on the chartered flight the Tour is offering players and caddies between events, and tested negative upon arrival at the course this week. The other 368 players, caddies and staff members running the event also tested negative, too.
It wasn’t until Friday morning when Watney started displaying symptoms that he reached out to a doctor and got tested again, which eventually came back positive. He is now in isolation.
‘He was very unlucky’
Watney did show up to the course on Friday morning, and was in close contact with several other players on Tour — including Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka. The Tour did test 11 people who were in contact with him, including his Thursday playing partners Vaughn Taylor and Luke List, all of whom came back negative, per ESPN.
Still, Watney felt bad after his test came back positive, and even sent McIlroy a text apologizing.
“He feels badly that he was here today at the golf course,” McIlroy said Friday. “I said, ‘Look it’s fine. You never know.’ So I said to him, ‘If I was in your position, I probably would have been here too. Look, at this point, you just have to concentrate on getting better and getting healthy.’”
There were more than 2.2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Saturday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and nearly 120,000 deaths attributed to it. South Carolina has seen a sharp increase in positive cases over the past two weeks, especially in counties located along the coast, and is approaching 24,000 confirmed cases.
While Thomas — who carded a 5-under 66 on Saturday, and sits six shots back from the leaders headed into the final round — said he feels safe out on the course, he knows there is only so much that he and the Tour can control.
“Unfortunately, you can’t control guys going to get something to eat or whatever it might be, if you’re staying in a hotel or room service or whatever it might be,” Thomas said, via Golf Digest. “What I’ve done is I stay in a house with a chef each week with a couple of guys and keep it in that small circle. So I feel very, very safe in that regard.
“Outside, you can’t control what other people have done, and I think that’s what happened to Nick. He was very unlucky.”
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