How Golf Won a Bet the Coronavirus Would Not Squelch Its U.S. Open

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As it played out, the decision to move the championship to September was, according to the U.S.G.A., the genesis of a new television deal for the event. In June, NBC Universal, which does not broadcast Sunday afternoon N.F.L. games, took over the rights to the U.S. Open, and all U.S.G.A. championships, from Fox.

By midafternoon on April 5, the heads of the seven governing golf bodies got together on a telephone call for what was, Davis said, about the 40th time since March. It was agreed that the U.S. Open at Winged Foot would assume the mid-September spot vacated by the British Open. Though that was the plan, it was still viewed as conditional.

On the same day, New York State’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed above 4,000, although Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pointed to early indications that the crisis could be plateauing.

Larry Schwartz, Cuomo’s former chief of staff who rejoined the governor’s administration during the Covid-19 crisis, first contacted the U.S.G.A. in May, not long after Cuomo had announced his support for professional sports to return in New York if the state’s tally of virus cases sustained a decline and if the sports adhered to strict safety protocols. Schwartz had worked with the U.S.G.A. the last time the U.S. Open was at Winged Foot, in 2006.

But it wasn’t until July that Schwartz’s dialogue with the U.S.G.A. intensified as he, along with Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the state health commissioner, reviewed the safety guidelines prepared for the U.S. Open, which were modeled after those in place on the PGA Tour since its restart in mid-June.

Schwartz advised Cuomo that the U.S.G.A.’s safety protocols not only met state guidelines, but also went a step farther by insisting that the several hundred volunteers needed to run the championship would be entirely from the New York area. Typically, U.S. Open volunteers come from all the world. In addition, at Winged Foot, no one would be permitted on the grounds without first passing a coronavirus test.

There was one sticking point before the state would approve the event: The U.S.G.A. was holding out hope that a limited number of fans, between 2,000 and 5,000, could still attend the tournament daily, but Cuomo wanted all returning sporting events to be fan-free.



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