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So this was a John Deere Classic for the first time in two years. Fans were here and pork chop sandwiches were eaten, yet the specter of COVID-19 still hung over it.
Before he began his final round in the JDC Sunday, Harold Varner III got the news that he got into this week’s Open Championship at Royal St. George’s as an alternate because 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama withdrew. Matsuyama recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Thus, Varner was a late addition to the chartered Boeing 767 that the JDC provides for its players who also are entered in the Open.
That’s a jet that had about half its normal passengers this year because the players were restricted to a maximum traveling party of four, be it caddies, coaches or agents. No family members were allowed.
“Hideki gave me a favor,” Varner said after his 66 here put him in a tie for 11th place.
Varner said he was “super excited” to make the trip to England. Asked if he were booking passage on the Deere’s charter, he said “Damn right I am.” A friend delivered Varner’s passport to TPC Deere Run on Sunday.
“I'm going to go get some toothpaste, I'm going to get some deodorant, and I'll be ready to go by Thursday,” Varner said.
Playing in unseasonably cooler July weather with rain Saturday and Sunday may have been a bit of preparation for playing in the Open.
Asked if he brought any warm clothing to the Quad Cities, Varner said “I did not, no. I literally had no pants, outerwear, but since you can't go outside your house (when not on the Royal St. George’s grounds), it doesn't matter. All I need is golf clothes
“I don’t see why you wouldn’t play in a major,” Varner said. “This year I didn’t try to qualify for the U.S. Open, and I regret that right now.”
Others were less enthused at the prospect of going to the Open because of the COVID-19 restrictions on players there. Kevin Na, who tied Ryan Moore for second place behind champion Lucas Glover, withdrew from the Open last week.
"It was a tough decision,” Na said in a prepared statement, “but for my family and me it is best to skip the Open this year.”
While the PGA Tour announced in late June it would stop testing vaccinated and non-vaccinated participants starting with its 3M Open that starts July 22. It encouraged players to get vaccinated, but didn’t mandate it.
The Royal & Ancient Golf of St. Andrews, however, has been stringent in COVID-19 regulations for Open Championship contestants. JDC participants who also are playing in the Open needed a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel to the U.K., and have to complete another test after arriving at Royal St. George’s.
In addition, the players basically have to stay in a bubble. They are required to stay in an official hotel or a “private self-catering rental accommodation” with a maximum of four people per property. Those people must be part of the player’s support group.
If a player is seen mixing with the public in a restaurant, shop or anywhere else, or visits another player in his accommodation, he is facing disqualification from the tournament.
While the other three major championships were eventually played in 2020, the Open Championship was not.
Glover is the 2009 U.S. Open champion. He hadn’t won a Tour event in 10 years before Sunday, and was more than happy to head overseas.
“Yeah, I mean, it was difficult to make plans, but once we get there, it's one of the greatest events that we have in our sport,” Glover said. “Very excited to get over there and compete and get after it.”
He did mention an important stipulation.
“Hopefully I've got a negative test coming,” Glover said, “but we'll see.”
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