European Tour: Irish Open postponed due to coronavirus pandemic

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has become the latest European Tour event to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Graeme McDowell was due to host the Rolex Series event at Mount Juliet Estate from May 28-31, with world No 1 Rory McIlroy and defending champion Jon Rahm already committed to playing.

The European Tour are looking to reschedule the tournament for later in the season, with the Trophee Hassan II from June 4-7 now the earliest date for golf to resume.

“As important as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is to all of us, everyone’s health is our only concern,” McDowell said.

“My thoughts are with everyone affected by the crisis and I hope everyone keeps safe and well during these difficult times.”

The golfing calendar has already been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, with the first two majors of the year postponed, as well as the Olympic Games, while the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was cancelled.

The Magical Kenya Open (March 12-15), Hero Indian Open (March 19-22), Maybank Championship (April 16-19), Volvo China Open (April 23-26), Estrella Damm N.A Andalucia Masters (April 30-May 3) and the Made In Denmark (May 21-24) are the other regular events to be postponed, while the GolfSixes (May 9-10) and the D+D Real Czech Masters (August 20-23) have been removed completely from the schedule.

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Robert Lee understands the golf lockdown and urges against a major scramble

With the “unreliable” public a probable contributory factor behind the closure of all UK golf courses, Robert Lee understands the decision while urging officials to avoid a late major scramble…

I’ve been self-isolating for over a week now after I started experiencing mild symptoms of coronavirus last week. I wasn’t too bad, but it ran its course and I just stayed out of everybody’s way!

And with the nation in lockdown, there’s not a lot to do anyway, apart from watching classic sport on the television. Who knows when proper live sport will return, but I feel it’s more likely to be a few months rather than a few weeks. It’s difficult to see the world getting fully back on track until a vaccine is found to combat COVID-19.

It’s possible we may see a few sports, including golf, return to competition without spectators, just to tip-toe their way back to some kind of normality, and we may see some of the top pros playing the odd exhibition match similar to the days of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.

But that seems a long way off, and right now there is no golf anywhere in the UK at any level, or not that we know of anyway. The relevant authorities ordered all courses to close, and that wasn’t a great surprise.

Maybe it would have been different if more people had followed the guidelines pertaining to social distancing. If this had been more strictly observed, and I’m talking generally, not just on a golf course, then it might have been possible to carry on playing golf.

However, it seems they were all given an edict and were not given a choice on whether to stay open or not. When you’re relying on people to do the right thing, then it’s easy to get into a spot of bother so it’s not worth the risk.

The public are too unreliable. Golf can be done in the current climate, but it would take a lot of discipline from everyone. It’s a shame because there’s more than enough space on a golf course to keep your distance, and it’s a great way of getting in your exercise.

But you can’t rake a bunker, because you can’t have everyone touching the same rake, it’s the same for every flagstick, and you’d be putting your hand in the hole to get your ball out. Some courses removed rakes and raised the hole to eliminate the risk, but the lockdown announcement made those efforts futile.

You can’t even meet a friend to walk a dog, let alone go and play golf, so the game – like most sports – is now at a standstill. With the lockdown regulations, it might have been possible to be permitted to play golf with a member of your household, but how do you police that?

In the end, it’s just easier and more logical to say: “No more golf for the time being”, and that’s an end of it. It’s so disappointing, especially as we’re enjoying our best weather of the year. And the ban on golf also reduces the risk to the demographic that will dominate many club memberships – the senior citizens, those most vulnerable to coronavirus.

The same applies to driving ranges, even though they might be perceived as areas of “natural social distancing”, but the realism is that no kind of business can stay open unless it’s a supermarket, a chemist or a GP’s surgery.

Golf can be done in the current climate, but it would take a lot of discipline from everyone. It’s a shame because there’s more than enough space on a golf course to keep your distance.

Robert Lee

You could argue that you stand in the bay with plenty of room between you and the nearest person, but at some point there will be a bottleneck getting in, there will be a queue for the balls, and you’re back to being reliant on everybody being sensible and adhering to the rules.

And, like the risks associated with playing golf, it’s just not worth it. It’s the same for everyone, it is brand new for everyone, and we’ve all got to be patient, ride it out and hope that golf will return sooner rather than later.

Major logjam

The rumour mill is in full flow around the majors all being played over the autumn and winter, but the scramble to squeeze four majors in this year seems a bit ridiculous to me. The logistics of trying to get them all in before the end of 2020 are complicated.

The players will be going into them half-baked, so the quality of golf will not be the usual standard, and that will devalue each event even more. It will be impossible for the world’s best to show their best when they have had so little competition for months.

The majors are all about showcasing the best golfers, playing to the best of their abilities, but that isn’t going to happen this year so there doesn’t seem much point in trying to accommodate four majors – and a Ryder Cup – into a short spell over the autumn and winter.

And where could you play the US Open or the PGA Championship in October or November? It would have to be Southern California, or Florida or even Texas. So that means more work changing venues and ensuring courses would be up to speed for a major.

Unless the players can be fully up-and-running by the end of the summer, my vote would be to come back with a clean slate in 2021 and start over with the usual format and schedule.

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And what of the Ryder Cup? You could argue that it is being played in the one place in the US where you could get away with not having crowds, as Whistling Straits is in the middle of nowhere! But what would the Ryder Cup be without the partisan nature of the crowd?

The Ryder Cup is as much about the spectators and the atmosphere as it is about the talent inside the ropes. And that talent would probably have to be picked this year with the qualifying system for both teams decimated by the hiatus.

If you had two teams picked outright by the captains, and no crowds present, you’d just be diluting and devaluing what is an amazing product and advert for golf.

But all that seems a long way off at the moment, and the uncertainty remains for now. I would love to think that, by the end of the year, we’ll have seen a bunch of professional tournaments completed and covered by Sky Sports Golf.

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Olympics 2020: Justin Rose backs decision to delay Tokyo Games

Olympic golf champion Justin Rose has welcomed the decision to delay the Tokyo Games by a year, feeling it was becoming increasingly inevitable.

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The Olympics was due to be held in Japan from July 24 to August 9 but has been rescheduled for next summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirming the Games will be held no later than the summer of 2021.

Rose, who won his gold medal at the Rio 2016 Games when golf returned to the Olympics after a 112-year absence, insists he will be there ready to defend his title whenever the Tokyo Games do go ahead.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Rose said: “It (letting the Games go ahead) was creating an unfair playing field. Some countries were in total lockdown. In other countries, athletes were able to train as normal.

“With golf, your whole calendar is very focused on one week, to the next week, to the next week. Whereas in many sports, especially track and field, it’s a two-year process trying to gear into the Olympics, so I have a lot more sympathy for some of those athletes.

“The Olympics has been a huge gift in my career. It’s something that I’ve been so proud of and it was so fun to be a part of. The opportunity to win another one would be huge.

“It’s something that’s really resonated with golf fans. I’ve been announced on the first tee for the best part of four years as Olympic champion and it definitely warms the insides every time I hear it.”

Rose slipped from 1st to 14th in the world rankings over the last year, missing three of his last four cuts and without a top-three finish since last June’s US Open, but is treating this enforced break as a chance to work on his game and hopes to see golf as one of the first sports to return to the sporting calendar.

“I wasn’t playing particularly well when things got called off,” Rose added. “There were certainly areas of my game which need some attention, and I’m also viewing it as an opportunity to work on my fitness and try to make some gains.

“I want to be tournament ready when we do get back to playing. I’m lucky to have a simulator and a putting green in my garage, so I can work on some of the technical side of the game but nothing simulates actually playing golf.

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Rory McIlroy and Jamie Redknapp talk coronavirus, life at home and attacking the Masters

Rory McIlroy has not touched a golf club for two weeks. Instead, the world No 1 is enjoying some unexpected free time at home, but still dreaming about breaking his Masters duck when play resumes.

He caught up with Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp on Instagram to reveal how he is spending his time during the coronavirus pandemic.

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McIlroy would ordinarily be preparing for the main event in Augusta, which was due to take place April 9-12.

But with every Tour coming to a standstill for at least the next few weeks and all UK golf courses closed temporarily, practice has stopped.

“I need something to practice for,” McIlroy said. “I have no idea when we are going to play again and I’d rather build myself up to something.

“I know if I go out there and hit balls, I’m not doing it for any purpose.

“I love golf and it has given me a lot of really great things but I think I love the competition more. If there’s no competition, then there’s nothing to look forward to.

“Right now, I am just enjoying spending some time at home, getting after it in the gym, and spending time by the pool or playing tennis.

“I realise there are a lot of us who are very fortunate to have gyms in our house and all sorts of stuff so that we can keep busy.”

Speculation is mounting that the world’s best players will return to Augusta National in October.

With the PGA Championships also postponed, and the remaining majors – the US Open and The Open – at risk of being delayed too, there could be a fixture pile-up later in the year.

“Augusta play their cards close to their chest, they don’t really let much out of the bag,” McIlroy said.

“I hope that they play it in October. Potentially, you are looking at four majors, a Ryder Cup and the FedEx Cup in the space of 12 weeks.

“If we all get back to playing around mid-summer, it is going to be a hectic 12 or 15 weeks of all the big events.”

Asked by Redknapp if he feels under any extra pressure to win the Masters – the only major missing from his trophy cabinet – McIlroy said: “I still have plenty more chances.

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When golf returns, pros may have different attitudes and priorities, says David Livingstone

The enforced suspension of competitive golf may help some professionals see the bigger picture, and David Livingstone hopes European Tour stars will resist the temptation of a ‘fast-track to vast riches’ …

When Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods address real-world problems and say that, for the moment, golf is not important, they strike a chord that could be significant in the future.

Then, when Rory McIlroy echoes these sentiments and happily promotes his sponsor’s message: “Now, more than ever, we’re one team,” and when Jon Rahm rages at fellow millennials for ignoring advice on coronavirus, there’s a hint of a new perspective at the very top of professional golf.

Does it mean that when this crisis ends we’ll see a different kind of thinking from the stars of the game where they retain the sense of community we’ve all discovered in these trying times?

It’s a question that could be asked of sport in general where we’ve seen incredible acts of kindness across the board, but even the biggest names in other codes are governed by decisions taken by governing bodies that limit individual behaviour.

Golfers, on the other hand, are independent contractors, largely in control of their own destiny, provided they’re playing well and maintaining top-level status in the game.

So, when this is all over, will things be different? Is there a chance that the men and women who play the game at the highest level will be more likely to see the big picture rather than just their own interests?

Will they realise that their quest for excellence is sometimes tarnished by the pursuit of money and will they give a thought to working more for the greater good of their fellow professionals?

We’ve been here before with these questions. The events of September 11, 2001, made us wonder if sport really mattered so much and called into question the importance of rivalries, reputations, and cash.

“I’m questioning why some European players who find quick success are so desperate to commit to the PGA Tour, not as a path to winning majors but as a fast-track to vast riches”

David Livingstone

The answers came pretty quickly when normal business resumed and, to be brutally frank, we all swiftly got over any notion of a more caring, sharing world of sport.

Recent events are different though to what happened 19 years ago. The sudden shock and fear we experienced then has been replaced by a prolonged period of emotional pain for almost everyone and it’s been a time when all of us have been forced to think about those less fortunate than ourselves.

The idea that this could somehow make successful golfers think differently in future is probably a naive long-shot on my part, but I can dream anyway.

After all, I spent 20 years of forlornly hoping that, just once, Woods would decide to play in the John Deere Classic as it clung to its small-time status on the PGA Tour. I knew it would never happen but I had endless hours of wishful thinking about the incredible goodwill and appreciation that would be generated by such a gesture.

The PGA Tour must have read my mind because in recent years they’ve forced some of the stars to enter tournaments they’ve never played before. Perhaps now is the time for more personal daydreams to imagine what the very best golfers in the world could do for lesser players and tournaments who struggle for a variety of reasons.

For a start, the top European Tour players, whatever their nationality, who cannot wait to get to the PGA Tour in America should perhaps examine their ambitions and their obligations.

In this case, I’m not referring to the likes of Rory McIlroy or Justin Rose or Jon Rahm because they are players who are driven by an ambition to win majors and who need to prioritise their schedule to that end. Besides, they still find a way of coming home from time to time and supporting their native tournaments.

I’m questioning why some European players who find quick success are so desperate to commit to the PGA Tour, not as a path to winning majors but as a fast-track to vast riches. They’re so focused on the money available in the US and the need to make so much of it to stay on Tour that some lose sight of what’s happening back in Europe, where tournaments are trying to attract strong fields.

The same kind of thought might apply to the attitude of men’s professional golf to the women’s game. I have to admit I’ve always tended towards a “market forces” attitude when it came to women’s sport and, until now, didn’t see any need for commercial rebalancing.

But in these difficult recent times when the men’s European Tour’s been struggling, I’ve been thinking about how desperate it must be for the Women’s Tour. Long before the latest world crisis came along, the LET has been fighting to remain financially relevant and give young women professionals a place to play and earn a living.

Yes, there have been new collaborations between the men’s and women’s Tours on both side of the Atlantic but the damage caused by the current situation must surely make these needs more urgent once we get out of all this.

I really hope that during this long period of introspection, those in golf who emerge financially healthy continue to have a thought for those not so lucky.

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Why golf is one of the last sports standing

No flagsticks, lids on the hole, no rakes in bunkers, only one person per buggy and mark your own scorecard.

These are new local rules which are allowing golf – for now – to remain one of the last sports able to provide a few hours of open-air sanctuary from the coronavirus worries affecting the world.

Just last year it was considered a big deal when golf’s rule makers allowed players to leave the flagstick in the hole when putting to speed up play.

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Golf is one of the few sports available currently to the Aussie poublic.Source:News Regional Media

Now the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Scotland has gone much further with unprecedented new local rule options to help ensure the game can provide much-needed relaxation in a time of crisis.

Golf Australia has communicated the local rule options to the nation’s 1500 golf clubs and is in daily contact with Federal Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck’s office to interpret changing government regulations.

Golf Australia acting chief executive Rob Armour says the mental health benefits of the sport are an inspiration to keep courses open and GA is publishing daily updates for clubs on its website.

“Golf is a fantastic way for Australians to get out and exercise and keep their minds active during a tough time for this country and the game can be played within the regulations the government has implemented to curb the virus.” he said.

“Our priority right now is to provide clarity on the government announcements for clubs to help them operate within those parameters and advise clubs on additional precautions they can take.”

There are significant changes to ensure safety.

Bunker play has taken on a new meaning under the revised rules.Source:Supplied

Golf clubhouses have been shut and social distancing rules mean golfers must remain 1.5 metres apart.

Clubs including Sydney’s inner-city Moore Park – one of the busiest in the country – have also suspended rental of carts and hire clubs. With no rakes in bunkers, preferred lies can now be taken within bunkers or they can be treated as ground under repair.

“We are working tirelessly with governments working to promote golf and the benefits of the game in terms of mental health through this period of social distancing,” Armour said.

“Golf is unique in that it is able to continue where most sports have shut down. “Our goal is to provide a healthy environment but we also want to show golf is a safe way for people to engage and exercise in the open air.”

Originally published asWhy golf is one of the last sports standing

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The Masters: Why there’s no doubt Rory McIlroy will get Grand Slam

Butch Harmon has backed Rory McIlroy to complete golf’s Grand Slam at the Masters and would like to see the event rescheduled for later in the year if possible.

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McIlroy was set to arrive at Augusta National as the firm favourite to win the Green Jacket for the first time, having posted top-five finishes in his last seven worldwide starts, only for the event to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is hoped that the traditional opening major of the year can be rescheduled for later in 2020, where McIlroy would have another opportunity to claim the only major title that has eluded him so far.

The Northern Irishman finished tied-21st in last year’s contest, having registered top-10 finishes in his previous five appearances at the event, with Harmon convinced it’s only a matter of time before McIlroy registers that long-awaited Masters victory.

When asked about whether McIlroy would ever win the Masters, Harmon told Sky Sports News: “Absolutely, I don’t see how he can’t. His game is suited for it and it’s the one he wants to win.

“I think if he can just relax and allow himself to play golf, then as world No 1 to say he’s never going to win the Masters is ridiculous. I think for sure he’ll win it and when he wins one, he’ll win more than one.”

The 2020 schedule has decimated because of the virus, with the PGA Tour season wiped out until late-May at the earliest and the rest of the golfing calendar left tough to predict.

Augusta chairman Fred Ridley announced that there is a possibility of staging the tournament later in 2020, with an October date a possibility, while Harmon hopes we see as much golf as possible during the second half of the year.

“I thought it was interesting when they decided not to cancel the event [the Masters], just to postpone it,” Harmon added. “It sure would be nice to have it, but I think we’ll just have to wait and see.

“I think if we are able to play golf then we should play the Ryder Cup, we should play The Open and play all the events we can, if and when the severity of this terrible virus passes.

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Coronavirus: Which golf events have been postponed or cancelled?

Tournaments cancelled or postponed (correct as of March 20):

Majors

April 2-5 – ANA Inspiration (postponed) – rescheduled to September 10-13

April 9-12 – The Masters (postponed)

May 14-17 – PGA Championship (postponed)

PGA Tour

March 11-14 – The Players Championship

March 18-21 – Valspar Championship

March 25-29 – WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

March 26-29 – Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

April 2-5 – Valero Texas Open

April 16-19 – RBC Heritage

April 23-26 – Zurich Classic of New Orleans

April 30-May 3 – Wells Fargo Championship

May 7-10 – AT&T Byron Nelson

European Tour

March 5-8 – Magical Kenya Open

March 19-22 – Hero Indian Open (postponed)

April 16-19 – Maybank Championship (postponed)

April 23-26 – Volvo China Open (postponed)

April 30-May 3 – Estrella Damm NA Andalucia Masters (postponed)

May 9-10 – GolfSixes Cascais

May 21-24 – Made In Denmark (postponed)

August 20-23 – Czech Masters

Asian Tour

March 12-15 – Royal Cup (postponed)

March 25-28 Bangabandhu Cup Open (postponed)

Challenge Tour

May 7-10 Prague Golf Challenge

June 4-7 – D+D Real Czech Challenge

July 2-5 – D+D Real Slovakia Challenge

LPGA Tour

Feb 20-23 – Honda LPGA Thailand

Feb 27-March 1 – HSBC Women’s World Championship

March 5-8 – Blue Bay LPGA

March 19-22 – Founders Cup (postponed)

March 26-29 – Kia Classic (postponed)

April 15-18 – Lotte Championship (postponed)

April 23-26 – Hugel-Air Premia LA Open (postponed)

April 30-May 3 – LPGA Mediheal Championship (postponed)

Korn Ferry Tour

March 19-22 – Chitimacha Louisiana Open

March 26-29 – Lake Charles Championship

April 2-5 – Savannah Golf Championship (postponed)

April 16-19 Veritex Bank Championship

April 23-26 Huntsville Championship

April 30-May 3 Simmons Bank Open

May 7-10 KC Golf Classic

May 14-17 Visit Knoxville Open (postponed)

PGA Tour LatinoAmerica

Mar 26-29 – Buenos Aires Championship

April 2-5 – Termas de Rio Hondo Invitational (postponed)

April 16-19 – OSDE del Centro Open (postponed)

April 23-25 – Chile Open (postponed)

May 7-10 – Puerto Plata Open (postponed)

PGA Tour Champions

March 27-29 – Rapiscan Systems Classic

April 17-19 – Mitsubishi Electric Classic

May 1-3 – Insperity Invitational

May 7-10 Regions Tradition (rescheduled for Sept 24-27)

June 12-14 Mastercard Japan Championship

Symetra Tour

March 27-29 – IOA Championship (postponed)

April 2-4 – Windsor Golf Classic (postponed)

Other events

Feb 12-15 – Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific (rescheduled for October 7-10)

March 19-22 – Aramco Saudi Ladies International (postponed)

April 1-4 – Augusta National Women’s Amateur (postponed)

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ANA Inspiration gets new date; LPGA Tour postpone three events

The LPGA Tour has postponed three more events due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, while the opening women’s major of the year has been rescheduled.

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The Lotte Championship, due to be held in Hawaii on April 15-18, as well as the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open (April 23-26) and the LPGA Mediheal Championship in California (April 30-May 3) are the latest to be called off due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The ANA Inspiration – traditionally kicking off the major season the week before the Masters – has been rescheduled for September 10-13, with the Portland Classic now moving a week later to September 17-20.

In a statement to players, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said: “We held out on these events as long as we could, hoping conditions would improve.

“Unfortunately, the current combination of the World Health Organization categorizing COVID-19 as a pandemic, local markets implementing very aggressive event/gathering limitations, and unprecedented, broad-scale travel restrictions that impact so many of our players and caddies, made hosting an LPGA official event under these conditions simply not possible or prudent.

“We are focused on giving you as many playing opportunities as we can. I will share more details about the back half of 2020 as soon as I can. I wish I could tell you when the LPGA Tour will resume our schedule, but the truth is, no one has those answers.

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Shane Lowry fears coronavirus could wreck his Open title defence this summer

Open Championship winning hero Shane Lowry fears the coronavirus could wreck his defence of the Claret Jug at Royal St. George’s in July as the pandemic continues to take more events from the golf calendar. The PGA Championship was postponed from its June date earlier this week, following the Masters.

This announcement came just minutes ahead of the PGA Tour confirming a cancellation of a further four events taking it to eight events on the 2019/20 PGA Tour wraparound not going ahead.

There is now big fears for the June 18 to 21 staging of the US Open at Winged Foot on Long Island and Lowry’s Open Championship defence four weeks later at the Royal St. George’s course in Kent, England.

Lowry and his young family have elected to remain in Florida rather than return home to Ireland as the world is told to go into ‘self-isolation’ mode.

The Royal Portrush winning hero had lost six kilos after picking-up a stomach bug contesting February’s Tour stop in Mexico City and then finished just outside the top-20 at the Honda Classic before being in the field for last week’s cancelled Players Championship.

“The Coronavirus pandemic is changing how we do things like never before,” said Lowry

“Golf-wise my big concern, and with the continuing postponing and cancelling of tournaments, is whether the Open Championship with go ahead,

“Naturally, I would be very disappointed if The Open was to be cancelled but then in the bigger picture the organising bodies are reacting very professionally to the crisis and we will be guided by their advice.

“It’s been a great nine months since I won at Royal Portrush and the reception has just been great going to tournaments as winner of The Open but you have to be worried for the bigger global picture.

“I guess, if they do call off The Open I will get to be Open Champion for two years and I will have to go celebrating again (smiling)”.

Lowry along with wife, Wendy and young daughter Iris are renting premises on the Ballen Isles estate located next door to PGA National and home to the Honda Classic.

And while he’s surrounded by so many championship standard golf courses, Lowry’s thoughts are also focussed on his extended family back in Co. Clara.

“Playing golf is our chosen career and if we do have to have a couple of months off it’s not the end of the world,” Lowry added.

“I just hope that everyone who may have unfortunately contracted the virus will fully recover as there are people dying.

“I’m thinking also of my family back home in Ireland as my granny is 82 while my dad is 60 with a bit of heart problem while my wife’s sister has three kidney transplants while Wendy’s granny is 88 and they are more important than anyone else.

“I have not been off the phone speaking to everyone back home and making sure that no-one goes visiting unless it is really urgent.

“So even though there will be no tournaments for the foreseeable future we will be better off in Florida and beside there is plenty of courses where I can play a few social rounds.”

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