The R&A has been warned that there could be withdrawals from the 149th Open Championship because of the strict coronavirus protocols, with the governing body already receiving several angry emails since the players and their teams were informed of the regulations earlier this week.
With the British major taking place at Royal St George’s in Kent in less than three weeks’ time, the pros have been shocked by the severity of the restrictions, with several having to cancel their planned accommodation because it falls foul of the rules and could see them being disqualified.
Pete Cowen – coach, among others, to Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Padraig Harrington – is one of those forced to seek other options. “I was due to stay with a few of the caddies in a huge RV [motorhome] just by the practice range,” he told Telegraph Sport. “It wasn’t cheap, but it seemed the wisest option in the current climate.. But we’ve just found out that we are not allowed to stay together because it breaks the Government protocols.”
An email sent to the players, caddies, coaches and managers on Tuesday set out what is and is not permissible. “The up-to-four persons [regulation] within private rental accommodation must be included within the players’ own support group,” it reads. “For example, multiple players or multiple caddies are not permitted to share private self accommodation.
“We recognise this is difficult for many that used to share during the championship but the Government’s strict contact tracing requirements mean that this will not be possible in 2021.
“No-one outside the accommodation ‘buddy’ group is permitted to visit other self-catering private accommodation. This would be a breach of the Covid-19 protocols and could lead to withdrawal from the championship.
“Those within the ‘inner bubble’ must not stay in hotels/B&Bs/guest houses, other than the exclusive use accommodation below. This is an additional measure mandated by the UK Government to ensure those within a bubble, are not mixing with the general public.”
Pete Cowen working with Rory McIlroy at Augusta National in April
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Cowen called the last point “laughable”. “There are going to be 32,000 fans allowed in every day and they’re saying we can’t stay in anything other than the dedicated hotels – most of which are already sold out – because we’d be mixing with the public!” he said.
“And we can’t stay together, like we have on the PGA Tour for the last year. We have all been vaccinated and will have been tested before we are allowed in. This ‘bubble’ we have created between ourselves has produced no problems at all. It makes no sense at all when there will be 60,000 at Wembley, 140,000 at Silverstone and all those at Wimbledon on the weekend before – sitting next to each other! I suppose I should be grateful I am going at all, as initially the wording of the regs made me believe instructors would be banned.”
Coaches will be allowed to work with players so long as they do not come within two metres. “When you think of footballers tackling each other and hugging etc, it really is bizarre,” Cowen said. “The R&A are simply doing what the Government is telling them and they’ve told me they are trying to persuade them to loosen the restrictions. I’ve sent in an email and I know a number of others have complained.
“I imagine the R&A’s inbox will soon be filling up and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the American players in particular don’t bother coming over. They will just see it as hassle and will be baffled why it’s so different to the bubble they are used to on the PGA Tour, which has, by and large, worked very well. It was the talk of the range last week at the US Open, with loads asking ‘how strict will it be?’ Even the Brits among us didn’t think it would be this strict.”
It is also understood that there is consternation that family and partners will not be deemed to be part of the inner bubble. As it is, players with huge entourages such as Bryson DeChambeau will be aghast that he must limit his support staff to three.
“It’s going to be fun and games when they all realise the limits,” Cowen said. “And when they see that 2,500 VIPs swanning in for the Euros semi-finals and finals, no problem at all.”