Seth Waugh, the chief executive of the PGA of America since 2018, is set to host the biannual Ryder Cup, a year after it was postponed due to the pandemic.
The Ryder Cup, featuring 12 golfers from the United States against 12 from Europe over three days starting Friday in Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, has become more than a golf tournament; it has become a raucous event that Waugh described as a combination of the Super Bowl and a Rolling Stones concert. No other golf tournament regularly has players and fans challenging each other.
This year, after Covid-19 seemed to ebb in the spring, the Delta variant has returned, challenging an event that typically hosts more than 40,000, all of whom follow just a few players.
Add to that the tension over critical comments between two of the US team’s top players – Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka – that led fans to taunt DeChambeau. Waugh said that like PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, he would not tolerate bullying. “We’ll be vigilant to make sure it doesn’t cross the line,” Waugh said. “We will enforce it if it happens.”
This year, the PGA of America has created an award to recognize sportsmanship in the game. The Nicklaus-Jacklin Award commemorates the award of a short putt to Tony Jacklin by Jack Nicklaus in the 1969 Ryder Cup, which resulted in a draw.
The following interview has been edited and abridged.
What will be different about the Ryder Cup this year?
There will be different protocols, with masks indoors and masks in some of the more crowded seats. The players are probably in a bubble. We can’t make sure everyone is vaccinated, but to make sure we can have one last putt on Sunday, we’re going to put them in a bubble. We considered checking the vaccinations for the fans, but we couldn’t guarantee that all players would be vaccinated, so how could we check all the fans?
Will European fans be able to come?
We said we would offer refunds for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t come now. Only a small number of Europeans have requested a refund. We hope for a good turnout from both sides.
How has the schedule changed with Covid?
Part of it is how much more we’ve learned about the virus. Last year there was not that much knowledge. We didn’t realize how hard it was to catch him outside. We think there are natural benefits to being outside, making it safe for people to be there. Inside we have masks. People have gotten better at living with this thing. That is very different from a year ago. We came to the conclusion that the number of fans does not matter. It’s the protocols.
How do you keep the spirit of the event?
The first Ryder Cup I went to was at the Belfry in 1993. It was the year Davis Love III made the putt to win. I can tell you I was on the 18th green when he made the putt, but I didn’t see it. I just saw him raise his putter. The experience is the excitement. It’s being there, it’s the fans. If you’re at a Stones concert and you’re not in the front row, you won’t see Mick Jagger, but you’ll hear ‘Jumping Jack Flash’.
What do you hope this year’s competition will bring?
The Ryder Cup is about fostering relations between the two sides. We’re trying to get some of that purity back with the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award. We want to make the stress and strain of the Ryder Cup the best moment of a player’s life. I hope it will recapture the spirit of what these things should be.
Everyone is just tired and exhausted by this pandemic. Normally you come back from the summer and you are ready to go. But we are wounded animals. People haven’t been together for a long time. Schools have not been schools, work has not been work, games have not been games. The world needs a Ryder Cup to remind us of the good in the world.