There are a lot of new normals on the PGA Tour these days, from nasal swabs to no fans or grandstands and to the missing post-victory embrace greenside with wife or girlfriend. Welcome to pro golf in the COVID-19 era.
But there’s been another, perhaps unexpected, new normal that actually isn’t so new at all: Driving from one tournament to the next.
At least that’s what C.T. Pan and his wife, Yingchun Lin, are doing, eschewing plush but pricey private jet travel as well as the tour’s more affordable but also more crowded weekly charter flight (another new normal) for the open road.
“Before we bought the RV we searched out the routes between tournaments,” Pan said. “It’s not that bad.”
That depends on one’s definition.
The trip from Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, where the tour resumed its season last week after three months off, to this week’s RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C., covered six states and spanned 1,105 miles, almost all of them on Interstate 20. The drive took Pan and his wife 16 hours in all — nine on Saturday after he’d missed the cut in Texas the day before and another 10 on Sunday — with an overnight stop at Roosevelt State Park, outside Jackson, Miss., along the way.
There, they took in a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest, lazy scenes of visitors relaxing and fishing along 150-acre Shadow Lake and enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep. It was a prospect made easier by the fact they’re traveling in a luxe 20-foot long Mercedes Sprinter, which is outfitted with a queen-size bed, a small but modern kitchen and a shower and bathroom.
It has all the safety and comforts of home, including their own pillows, Pan said.
Still, he and his wife have a long way to go. Their trip from Hilton Head to next week’s Travelers Championship in Connecticut will take 14 hours. From there, it’ll take about eight hours to get to the Rocket Mortgage Classic outside Detroit. Then it’s only a few hours to central Ohio for the Workday Charity Open and Memorial tournament, both at Muirfield Village.
Of course it wasn’t all that long ago that driving was how most players got from one event to the next. Though Arnold Palmer began flying to tournaments, doing the piloting himself, it wasn’t until decades later that most players took to the skies. In the early 1980s, for example, Paul Azinger barnstormed his way across the country in a 24-foot motor home his first few seasons. Many other players traveled similarly before commercial and private jet travel became the norm. Now, almost no one drives (though Viktor Hovland is also hitting the road in his car these next few weeks).
But these also aren’t normal times. With concerns over the ongoing pandemic, plus a joy for driving, Pan preferred not being cooped up in a steel tube with recirculated air alongside 100 or so of his colleagues.
“During these crazy times [my wife] doesn’t want to fly, and I don’t want to fly,” he said. “And she wants to travel with me.”
Pan, 28, and his wife, both of whom were born in Taiwan, also understand the dangers of infectious disease. He was just shy of a teenager when SARS spread from China in 2002 to his country and elsewhere. Though it was contained relatively quickly with just 8,500 worldwide cases, it had a high fatality rate at 11 percent. In Taiwan, the percentage was even higher with 668 total cases and 181 of them fatal.
That experience, plus reports that Pan and his wife were getting from family members back in Taiwan about the coronavirus, coupled with news reports about the virus’ spread in the United States, shaped Pan’s decision to withdraw from the Players Championship in March the morning of the opening round. Later that night, the tour canceled the tournament and went on hiatus.
“Back in January we knew this virus was different,” he said. “It was a tough decision to withdraw because I had never withdrawn from a tournament, but by March we knew a lot more [about coronavirus].
“We remember [SARS] very much. It was a very scary time. Taiwaneese people are very careful now. We wear masks pretty much everywhere.”
When the Tour announced that it was resuming its season, Pan, who lives in Houston, still had reservations about playing. He thought a June restart would be impossible to pull off and that it would be too soon.
But the tour, he said, made him and his wife feel comfortable with the steps they’ve taken. He said so far they’ve done a “great job” on testing and other protocols to keep players safe.
Pan’s concerns were also eased by being able to carry on in their own bubble, traveling and living out of their RV, which he says that he and his wife will continue to drive to tournaments for at least the next year if not longer.
There is one exception: If Pan qualifies for August’s PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco.
“If I get into that, I probably will fly,” he said. “That’s a tough one to drive to.”