The fate of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot is in peril in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Considering the fact that every upcoming professional sporting event in the country has been postponed or canceled — including April’s Masters and May’s PGA Championship — this should come as no surprise.
The U.S. Open is scheduled for June 18-21, so it is not as imminent on the calendar as the first two golf major championships to the point where a decision to either postpone or cancel must be made today.
But that deadline date is fast approaching. According to officials from the USGA, the governing body that conducts the U.S. Open, a decision about what to do about the event is expected to come within a few weeks.
As it stands, all construction of the infrastructure such as grandstands and corporate, merchandise and concession tents has been halted at Winged Foot. There is no USGA staff on site at Winged Foot at the moment.
The executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week resulted in the indefinite closure of the club until further notice, with only essential staff permitted to maintain the golf course.
On Tuesday, management at Winged Foot received this letter from the USGA, which was obtained by The Post:
“We continue to hold the dates for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June and monitor all available guidance and regulations from the CDC, WHO and other federal, state and local authorities to do what is in the best interests of the community for the safety and health of all involved. Given that postponement could be a possibility, we are creating contingency plans should we need to pivot. It is premature at this point to speculate on any potential date or location changes, but we expect to make a decision sometime in the middle of April.’’
Preparations began to slow a couple weeks ago as the coronavirus crisis began to take hold. They were completely halted last week. Only the bases that provide support for major infrastructure are in place, but no grandstands or hospitality structures have been built yet.
“We’re creating contingency plans,’’ Beth Major, the USGA’s senior director of championship communications, told The Post. “It’s a little premature for us to speculate whether that would include a date change, but a time frame [for a decision] is being worked on.
“We’re very much hoping to be able to conduct the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June, but it’s also realistic that we have to think about changes accordingly. Any decisions we’re making is relying on CDC and local guidelines.’’
Major said “one of the contingency plans’’ includes conducting the tournament without spectators in attendance provided that is deemed safe by the authorities.
Moving the event to a date later in the year might be challenging considering the Masters is hoping to reschedule at a date believed to be in October, the PGA Championship also is hoping to be played later in the year and the British Open is scheduled for July 16-19.
With the Olympics having been postponed on Monday, there would be an opening from July 30-Aug. 2.
“Contingencies change on a regular basis,’’ Major said. “As we go along, the contingencies and the plans get more defined.’’
One complication that has not yet been defined should the tournament take place on schedule is how the 156-man field will be constructed. Local qualifying, the first stage of open qualifying, was scheduled to run on various dates between April 27 and May 12 and has already been canceled. As of now, according to Major, the sectional qualifying stage, which is scheduled for June 8, has not been canceled.
In all, nearly 1,000 players were signed up to compete in one of 109 local qualifiers hosted throughout the U.S. (with one in Canada).
Major said a determination has not yet been settled on as to how the USGA is going to alter the format with all of those qualifying stages canceled.
“We feel very strongly that qualifying is a critical component of our championship, so we want to make sure we’re making that opportunity available to the competition while at, same time, keeping everyone safe,’’ she said. “We’re looking at how we would restructure qualifying.’’
The USGA’s other championships also are in jeopardy of going on as scheduled — the U.S. Women’s Open June 4-7 at Champions Golf Club (Cypress Creek Course), in Houston, Texas, the U.S. Senior Open Championship June 25-28 at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship July 9-12 at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn.
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