FRILFORD Heath’s Eddie Pepperell believes August’s USPGA Championship is the most likely date for any meaningful return to golf.
With all four of the 2020 Majors rearranged – or in the case of The Open at Royal St George’s, which has been cancelled until 2021 – the PGA Tour is reportedly about to announce a return to action in June.
Speculation has been rife in the past 24 hours that Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, from June 11-14, is the event the PGA Tour will choose to kick off its resumed schedule, after The Players Championship was abandoned after just 18 holes in March.
Pepperell, who finished tied third at Sawgrass a year ago but was not eligible for the 2020 Players Championship – the last event to be played in the USA – still thinks the middle of June may be both “optimistic and unrealistic” for a resumption.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, Pepperell said the USPGA at San Francisco’s TPC Harding, was more likely to go ahead – possibly without spectators.
Pepperell said: “We’re still quite a long time away from August. I could see it happening, but maybe with no crowds.
“The issue is how international the field is. You’re going to have Asian, South American or African players who may be under severe travel restrictions. So then, how fair is it?
“Personally, I would go if it’s deemed safe to do so,” added Pepperell, who has been in lockdown with his dog Gus at his Oxfordshire home, near Abingdon.
But the former England international, who has two European Tour wins under his belt, admitted he was not keen on the idea of having to spend up to 14 days in isolation in the USA before playing the USPGA.
Eddie, who made his debut in the USPGA at Bellerive, in 2018, added: “I’m not in that much of a hurry to get back to golf that I’d be willing to quarantine myself in a hotel for a week beforehand.
“That would change the game for me,” said Pepperell, who won the Portuguese Amateur in 2011.
We may have to take 30-50% pay cut
EUROPEAN Tour chief Keith Pelley wrote to all the players earlier this week warning them to expect major pay cuts and less “perks” on Tour.
That plan may see events concentrated in the UK with more than one event in the same week – and possibly more than one tournament played at the same venue.
The most likely scenario could see the Scottish Open, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the BMW PGA at Wentworth and the British Masters all played in the UK within a month.
That would minimise disruption for overseas players who may be required to self-isolate before being cleared to play, as well as the need for testing for COVID-19 before players could compete.
Pepperell, who won the British Masters at Walton Heath, in October 2018, and sits on the European Tour’s influential Tournament Committee has backed such an idea.
“It would be great,” he said. “If someone said to me now that, come September, we’re going to be playing 15 events before Christmas, crikey that would be something to look forward to.”
Pepperell, who is well-known for his insightful, funny and sometimes controversial views in his personal blog, and his comments on Twitter, has admitted he is not always the most positive thinker.
But former Drayton Park junior is still hoping that golf can get back to some sort of normality – along with the rest of society – over the coming months, even if life is unlikely to be the same for the foreseeable future.
The 30-year-old said: “Obviously, selfishly, I hope things will be fine.
“I suspect they won’t be. I suspect we’re going to have to take a serious pay cut.
“But if golfers and footballers and high-earners have to take a 30-50 per cent pay cut, this isn’t a disaster.
“I do have concerns. I’m not naturally the most optimistic person in the world.
“But I can see a scenario where the European Tour comes out of this OK, with some legs to stand on.
“The Tour and its sponsors may survive much in the way they did 10 years ago.
“I just hope that individuals, small businesses and people who have really taken risks over the last few years to make something of their lives come out the other end of this.
“Big companies can always survive, but my brother is a golf pro and I know he’s going to face difficulties.”
‘Better chance to make Ryder Cup if it’s 2021’
PEPPERELL realises any decision to postpone September’s Ryder Cup clash against America could work to his benefit.
Having gone off the boil since his strong finish at Sawgrass just over a year ago, Pepperell – who was being tipped for the 2020 Ryder Cup at the start of the 2019 season – has slipped well down the rankings with only one top 10 finish since July.
He currently sits in 63rd place on the European Money list on the Ryder Cup rankings – two years ago he came close to making Thomas Bjorn’s team for Le Golf National in Paris – where his former B.B&O. team-mate Tyrrell Hatton made his debut.
Pepperell is not convinced the contest at Whistling Straits can go ahead
“I can’t see how they can keep the qualification process the same with theoretically only one Major before the Ryder Cup that will count,” he told Sky Sports News.
“I can’t see how Padraig Harrington is going to be keen to keep the same system – he’s going to have to change the way he picks.
“If it is postponed, then it gives me theoretically more chances to get in the team,” Eddie added.
“Maybe come September when things are clearing up, we’re going to be itching for something like the Ryder Cup.
“It could come at a brilliant time and I know Whistling Straits is just amazing – so it is going to be a great Ryder Cup there.
“From what I’m hearing, the 2022 Ryder Cup isn’t going to budge, so it’d be interesting to have back-to-back Ryder Cup years.”