The virus that stalled the restless world of sport

Covid-19 has accomplished the near impossible task of a clean break for stressed athletes. With a season that barely takes a break, this downtime should help athletes connect with their families and find more of themselves

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Empty Golf Course

14 March 2020: Athletes barely rest these days. Break sweat, burn calories, tame competition and repeat is the order of the day for many of the top athletes pursuing professional sport. Television, fans and social media are pouring millions on the table and athletes find it hard to turn their glare away. Sports managers find it increasingly difficult to find the ideal balance between competition and rest as there is an increasing demand from consumers who want an endless stream of instantly gratifying action. But the spread of Covid-19, Novel Corona Virus, has brought the industry to its knees and found a way to send constantly traveling athletes and their bulging teams back home to their families.

Professional sport is serious business. And as athletes build up their rhythm for a big run at the tournaments that truly matter, the break does hurt their preparations and momentum. But that is besides the point. Now that the viral outbreak has forced a shutdown, a task that the players and management found beyond them, it offers the golfers and other athletes a breather from the routine and much needed rest.

It is not that every golfer and their caddie will enjoy that thought. It is important to recognise that this is a professional occupation with no pay cheques. Especially for the athletes in the middle and bottom tier of the sport, this is a painful loss of prospective income. But even then, this is a break that can do more good than harm.

First, they will be able to spend some quality time with their family, a luxury that is far from lost on the minds of these itinerant travelers. It could help strengthen some relationships, heal some wounds and add some more happiness into their golf bags when they eventually return to the circuit.

It is also very rare for the golfer to have an opportunity to fix their game midway through a season. The break affords the golfers an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and realign the errant pieces. On this count alone, expect to see some high quality golf when the season resumes at the end of this pandemic.

The PGA TOUR waited to the last minute before suspending their calendar at the end of the first round of the Players Championship. The Masters followed suit a few hours later when they postponed the event, even while hoping to squeeze it in later. It remains to be seen if Augusta might find the window for a fall celebration carpeted by some colourful foliage around its spectacular course. The Asian Tour and European Tour have also suspended all their events till further notice. It is likely the Tours will review the situation some time in April to figure out the next steps depending on the continued status with the spread of the virus around the world.

Anirban Lahiri has returned home from the USA and is spending time in Ahmedabad with his family and friends. The PGA TOUR golfer has unfettered access to the Kalhaar Blues and Greens Golf Club and could use some time shaping his game for the road ahead. As it is Anirban was away travelling as he played out the PGA TOUR schedule through the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Asian Tour is also on a break and Rashid Khan, who has played himself sore, can use the rest as he prepares for his first-ever experience in the Olympics. Question marks abound about the quadrennial games, but no matter when they take place, the rest will help Rashid prepare his body and mind for the biggest tournament of his career.

The PGTI Tour stalled soon after an epic six-hole playoff between Aadil Bedi and Udayan Mane who was looking to win for a fourth straight time. In the end, Aadil played with maturity and poise to outduel Mane and collect the maiden title of his promising career. Four straight titles were never won on the PGTI Tour, Mukesh is the only other golfer to win thrice in a row in India.

At the moment Khan and Udayan are the highest-ranked Indians. They had a leg in Tokyo with hopes to play in the Olympics but with the season in limbo and the Olympics pushed back by a year, it remains to be seen how the qualification may play out in golf. The IOC had suggested that anyone that already qualified to the Olympics will retain their spot when the events are held in July 2021, but the qualification system in golf is only finalised a month before the Olympics, which means that most likely Mane and Khan may have to pick the sticks and run again from where they left it to qualify for the Olympics.