Monahan: ‘Gut-wrenching’ decision to cancel Players Championship

Cameron Champ, Nate Lashley, Kevin Tway and their caddies, walk the 17th green, during the first round of The Players Championship golf tournament Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Calling it a “gut-wrenching” decision that affected countless lives across the First Coast, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said on Friday morning that the choice to cancel The Players Championship and professional golf for the next month due to the coronavirus pandemic was one of the most difficult decisions he’s had to make.

Monahan said on a Friday morning — less than a day after he announced the plan to play the final three rounds of the tournament without fans in an attempt to combat the coronavirus pandemic — said that the decision to cancel The Players crystallized late Thursday. International golfers had questions about travel and their families and brought those concerns to the Tour. Then, theme parks like Disney World in Orlando announced decisions to close.

That locked in the Tour’s decision to scuttle The Players.

“When you looked to that moment in time where you have two theme parks that are located between Jacksonville and Tampa cancel, to me that really was the thing that was the final — that was the final thing that we had heard that said, you know what, even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we’ve done all the right things, we can’t proceed, and it’s not right to proceed,” Monahan said. “And when you use doing the right thing as the litmus test, to me that was the final — those two things together were really the things that drove the decision.”

The Tour rapidly changed things this week as the coronavirus situation escalated.

On Tuesday, the PGA Tour said the tournament would go on as planned. By Thursday, it announced that fans wouldn’t be allowed in for the final three rounds. And hours later, the Tour released a statement that golf as we know it was going dark as a precaution against the coronavirus.

Why didn’t The Players cancel earlier? Monahan said that the PGA Tour was making decisions in real-time as it ingested more and more information.

That alone was an unprecedented move and no doubt disappointing on all accounts for the Tour and area fans at one of the PGA’s marquee events of the year. Monahan said Friday morning that The Players will not be rescheduled.

“I love our players. I love this Tour. I love our tournament. I love our charities. I love our volunteers. I love everything that we do. … While we wanted to do everything we could to play our Super Bowl we also wanted to be smart and rational about how we were thinking about it,” Monahan said.

"To cancel it is a really hard decision. It’s gut-wrenching. Not gut-wrenching necessarily for me, but as I said earlier, when you’re affecting so many people’s livelihoods, that weighs heavily on you. I look at everybody here. What are we all doing over the next five weeks? Right? That has to weigh heavily on you. And it did weigh heavily. And it will weigh heavily on me. But at the same time it’s going to inspire me. I know it will inspire our players, it will inspire our tournaments. Like I said, golf is the great unifier and equalizer and we have a lot of good to do here.”

Monahan said that The Players will pay half of its $15 million purse equally to the field of 144 golfers, roughly $52,000 each.

As the Tour announced Wednesday in response to the virus, fans will be able to receive refunds for tickets and parking. Here is the information for fans and refunds.

“I’m so bummed,” spectator Jillian Foss said Thursday. “Everybody is bummed. I think everybody realizes how serious it is, but all you want to do is be here for a memorable moment and be with the players. So I guess we will be on the sidelines. It’s sad.”

The coronavirus pandemic has created havoc across the sports world, with the NBA canceling the remainder of its regular season late Wednesday night due to a player, Rudy Gobert, testing positive for the COVID-19 strain of the virus. The NCAA announced on Wednesday that March Madness would be played without fans. The SEC announced that it was canceling the remainder of its basketball tournament on Friday.

News4Jax spoke with several business owners and managers who invested a lot to be running their businesses on the ground, and it’s not good news for them.

“It’s just surreal to me that we’re not gonna be here for the weekend,” said TacoLu owner Don Nichols. “It’s like if a hurricane comes, we had bad weather for five days, we would still have all this stuff because we’re ready. We’ve been ready for weeks. So we all just have to figure out how to get all that worked out.”

“We got about 200 pounds of picked lobster meat that we got a find something to do with,” said Julianne Lilly, owner of Cousin’s Maine Lobster. “So I’m hoping they come up with some kind of special or maybe people come visit us because they can’t come out here.”

The Players Championship will go on, but the tournament will play the final three days without spectators in an attempt to combat the coronavirus pandemic, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said on Thursday.

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.