The PGA Tour is strongly encouraging its players and caddies to get COVID-19 vaccines, sending a memo Monday that outlined how it will eventually stop on-site testing while also attempting to debunk some of the myths associated with the shots.
In the memo obtained by ESPN, the tour said while it will not mandate vaccination, it will require those who do not get the shots to still be tested each week for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival on-site and at their own expense. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to withdraw and be subject to contact tracing and quarantine procedures.
Included was a set of talking points to assure players that the vaccines are safe.
Among the highlights:
"The COVID 19 vaccine has been administered to over 700 million people worldwide. There have been very few significant side effects reported. Once a vaccine is authorized for use, monitoring continues with systems in place to track problems or side effects that were not detected in clinical trials.''
"There are common misconceptions and concerns about infertility, altering DNA, microchipping, becoming infected with COVID as a result of the COVID 19 vaccine. These misconceptions and concerns are false.''
There clearly has been some pushback from players about getting the vaccines. The tour began a weekly testing program last June when it returned to play after a 13-week break due to the pandemic.
Players and caddies have been required to be tested on-site each week, with some tweaks made along the way. Those who do not play a tournament are required to be tested at home before traveling and again upon arrival.
In general, the system has worked well for the PGA Tour, which has reported fewer than 30 on-site COVID positive tests over the past 10 months. The last reported positive cases occurred at the Honda Classic last month.
"I've had 60-plus tests, all negative,'' said one veteran PGA Tour player who wished not to be identified. "My caddie and I have been through every airport, public transportation, you name it, without getting COVID. But the tour is going to make it a pain for us if we don't take it. They are not forcing you, but it will be a pain if you don't.''
The player said he would be more receptive to getting a shot if it is the Johnson & Johnson version, which has been put on hold by the Centers for Disease Control. The vaccine requires just one shot, and some players are leery of potential side effects associated with two doses and how that might impact their playing schedule.
The tour said it will consider anyone fully vaccinated 14 days after getting the two-shot vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) as well as the one-shot Johnson & Johnson. For players who reside in countries where the AstraZeneca vaccine is allowed, that will also be accepted.
According to the memo, the tour has a system by which verification can be uploaded to a health account.
The tour said on-site testing will cease at the end of June, which likely means the Travelers Championship (June 24-27) or the Rocket Mortgage Classic (July 1-4) will be the starting point for the new program.
Although face coverings will still be required at tour events indoors, the tour said in the memo that "in accordance with CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated individuals may gather in small groups without face coverings.''