Jun 19, 2020

  • Bob HarigESPN Senior Writer


    • Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
    • Covered golf for more than 20 years
    • Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University

HILTON HEAD, S.C. — Nick Watney became the first player on the PGA Tour to test positive for COVID-19 and withdrew before the second round of the RBC Heritage after learning of his positive test on Friday.

Now the hope is that Watney did not spread the virus to others.

Watney, 39, was at Harbour Town Golf Club awaiting the results of his test. Brooks Koepka said he stood near Watney in the parking lot, and another player, Si Woo Kim, said he passed him on the driving range.

Rory McIlroy, who saw Watney before his round from a distance on the practice putting green, said he received word of the positive test via a text from Watney.

“He feels badly that he was here today at the golf course,” McIlroy said. “I said, look, it’s fine. You never know. So I said to him, if I was in your position, I probably would have been here, too. Look, at this point, you just have to concentrate on getting better and getting healthy.

“It sucks for him especially. If you contact it, that’s fine, but then it’s the fact that who have you come into contact with and who you might have exposed. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Until this thing’s over, we all just have to stay vigilant and keep your distance and wear our masks if we’re going out in public and keep washing our hands.”

It was unclear if Watney had a COVID-19 test at the course or at local accommodations. He had symptoms consistent with the virus, consulted with a physician and, after taking a test, was found to be positive, according to a PGA Tour release.

Watney shot 74 in the first round, and his playing partners, Vaughn Taylor and Luke List, were notified of the result through nine holes of the second round Friday.

“I was a little shocked, to be honest,” Taylor said. “Heart started racing, got a little nervous. Just hope Nick’s doing well and we get through this. I didn’t have any close contact with Nick yesterday. We kept our space. We didn’t shake hands. Right after the round, I washed my hands. Nick never coughed or sneezed. So I feel comfortable.”

Watney, a five-time PGA Tour winner, missed the cut at last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, and it is unclear how he spent the weekend. He traveled on his own to Hilton Head on Tuesday and did not take one of the tour-arranged charter flights.

According to the tour’s Health & Safety protocols, Watney and others who came to the RBC Heritage apart from the charters were required to take a COVID-19 test on site. Watney took the first COVID-19 test on Tuesday, and it came back negative.

“Nick will have the PGA Tour’s full support throughout his self-isolation and recovery period under CDC guidelines,” the tour said in a statement. “For the health and well-being of all associated with the tournament and those within the community, the tour has begun implementing its response plan in consultation with medical experts including working with those who may have had close contact with Nick.”

According to the tour, a total of 369 players, caddies and essential personnel underwent on-site testing before the start of the tournament, with no positive results. Last Saturday, 98 people took a test as a condition of taking one of the charters. There were 954 total tests without a positive result in the first two weeks of the tour’s restart following the 13-week shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“By the end of the year, there’s going to be 200,000 deaths in the U.S. alone from COVID-19,” McIlroy said. “So to think that us on the PGA Tour, none of us were going to get it … I don’t think anyone thought that. I think the consensus was someone was going to get it at some point, and Nick’s the one that’s got it, and he’s self-isolating and doing what he has to do.”

The tour’s Health & Safety guidelines stipulate that Watney now self-quarantine for 10 days. He would be allowed to drive to his home in Austin, Texas, but he cannot fly. If he chooses not to drive, it is unknown if he would be required to stay in South Carolina, but the tour covers isolating costs if a player has followed the protocols.

“The whole plan put in place was not if but when somebody tests positive,” Jordan Spieth said. “What’s the protocol, and what’s the next steps? So I feel confident just in being on those phone calls in what the PGA Tour’s going to do going forward here, and hopefully contact tracing doesn’t lead to anybody else testing positive within the bubble.

“South Carolina’s open. If you go anywhere to a restaurant, there’s a lot of people there right now. So I guess that’s probably the best case is that he got it on his own outside. But again, it was not an ‘if’ scenario. You’ve got to plan for it to happen, and hopefully it’s very much contained.”

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