Smaller golf tours playing through virus outbreak


PHOENIX — Anna Nordqvist drained a birdie putt on the second playoff hole, pumped her fist and gave a slight wave to the half-dozen people clapping near the green. The tournament title in hand, the two-time major champion turned to playing partner Lisa Pettersson and hesitated.

The customary postround hug was out of the question, so the Swedish players touched elbows and walked off the green with a laugh.

The major golf tours may have shut down during the coronavirus outbreak, but a handful of mini tours are playing through.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people questioning why we’re playing, but everyone is playing golf anyway,” Nordqvist said after winning a Cactus Tour event at Moon Valley Country Club on Friday. “Everyone got their own cart or they’re walking, you keep your distance and the golf course is a great place to be right now.”

The spreading coronavirus caused a ripple effect across the sports landscape, as just about every major sport postponed or canceled events and seasons. The LPGA joined the fray, postponing tournaments scheduled through the end of April and pushing the ANA Inspiration, its first major of the season, to September.

The Cactus and Outlaw tours have pushed on in Arizona, which has among the fewest coronavirus cases in the United States with around 64.

The Outlaw Tour, a men’s tour with events across the Phoenix area, held a three-day tournament this week at Western Skies Golf Course in Gilbert. Jared de Toit, a PGA Tour Latinoamerica player, shot a final-round 59 on Thursday but lost in a playoff to fellow Canadian Wil Bateman.

Nordqvist shot a final-round 66 at Moon Valley to tie Pettersson and won the event with a roughly 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole. England’s Holly Clyburn won an Eggland’s Best Tour event in Lake Mary, Florida, this week.

“It’s definitely strange, but we’re taking precautions,” Pettersson said.

The Cactus Tour’s Moon Valley stop featured a limited field of 27 players and had preventative measures in place to protect from the coronavirus.

All carts were sanitized before each of the three rounds, and the players who didn’t walk were limited to one per cart. The players were asked to space out on the course to follow social distancing guidelines, and the postround hugs often found in women’s golf were replaced by waves — and one last high-elbow.

Even the group photo at the end had social distancing; Cactus Tour director Mike Brown had the players stand arm’s length apart before taking the picture.

“We followed all the guidelines,” Brown said. “It’s safer for them for a chance of getting something doing what I did because they’re all individuals, not cramming into a golf cart right next to someone. But we’re obviously keeping an eye on how things go.”

The Cactus Tour has been an early stepping stone for LPGA players since its inception in 2005, holding women’s tournaments across the Southwest, primarily in Arizona. The tour added the tournament at Moon Valley to its schedule this week and two others after players started calling Brown.

The tour has events scheduled through a tournament Aug. 3-5 in Beaumont, California.

“The girls wanted to play. I didn’t call any one of them,” Brown said. “They want to play, and they’re already playing anyway. I’ve gotten some bad press, but with all the things that are going on, they’re already playing.”

The LPGA Tour’s U.S. schedule typically kicks into full gear in the spring, but now players are scrambling to find places to play.

Nordqvist tied for 25th at the Women’s Australian Open on Feb. 13-16. She led last week’s Outlaw Tour event — as the only woman in the 56-player field — after an opening-round 64 before tying for 28th at Moon Valley. Nordqvist stayed in the Phoenix area and picked up a win worth $2,000 in the Cactus Tour, which she hadn’t played since 2009.

“It’s been a rough stretch, obviously,” she said.

At least she and other players have a place to play — for now.

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