Live golf action makes return, even without fans

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Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolf of the CDC Foundation team, and Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson of the American Nurses Foundation team, warm up prior to the TaylorMade Driving Relieve Supported By UnitedHealth Group on May 17 at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida. -- MIKE EHRMANN/POOL PHOTO VIA USA TODAY NETWORK

NEW YORK — United States President Donald J. Trump praised the return of live golf on Sunday, dialing into a televised broadcast of a two-on-two charity skins match between top players on the PGA Tour, the first event of its kind since the coronavirus lockdown.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is from Northern Ireland, teamed up with Dustin Johnson of the United States to take on American duo Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff for the highly anticipated event, one of the few live pro sports competitions on a calendar otherwise upended by the deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see,” Trump said on the NBC Sports broadcast. “I’m getting a little tired of watching 10-year-old golf tournaments where you know who won.”

Players at the Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida, adhered to social-distancing guidelines aimed at limiting the coronavirus spread, standing 6 feet (1.8 m) apart and carrying their own clubs, with no caddies allowed, on an empty course without the usual masses of eager fans.

An avid golfer, Trump has played rounds with current and former players including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and four-time major winner McIlroy, who last week criticized the president’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. “We want to get sports back, we miss sports, we need sports in terms of the psyche, the psyche of our country and that’s what we’re going.”

Meanwhile in Seoul, Park Hyun-kyung won the KLPGA Championship title at the weekend as women’s golf in South Korea joined the country’s professional baseball and soccer leagues to restart amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Park signed off with a second successive round of 67 to erase a three-shot deficit and triumph by one stroke in the tour’s first event since December.

Overnight leader Lim Hee-jeong (71) and Bae Seon-woo (68) shared second place at 16-under 272 in the event played without spectators at the Lakewood Country Club in Yangju.

An emotional Park hugged her father, who was caddying for her, after the winning putt and was showered with petals from her peers who also did elbow bumps in what is likely to be a new normal in sports.

“I was so disappointed not to have been part of that winner’s group last year,” Park was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

“I am so happy that I got the first win out of the way in the first tournament of the year.”

“I don’t think the next win will come easily for me. I have to keep trying.”

Park pocketed $178,400 for her maiden KLPGA victory in her second year on the tour.

It was an unusual experience for those at the Lakewood Country Club, which was open only to players, caddies, officials and media.

Caddies wore masks, players dined separately and fist and elbow bumps replaced post-round hugs and handshakes over the last four days.

Next month’s men’s Korea Open, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, was cancelled on Friday owing to the pandemic.

South Korea last Sunday reported five new domestic cases of coronavirus, raising fears of a fresh wave of contagion after weeks of nearly no new domestic cases. — Reuters