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Ryder Cup postponement most likely

US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and Europe skipper Padraig Harrington
US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and Europe skipper Padraig Harrington promoting the competitions in the days before social distancing

Postponement is the most likely outcome as golf bosses on both sides of the Atlantic hold complex meetings to decide whether this year’s Ryder Cup can be played.

A European Tour spokesman was only prepared to say “fingers crossed” when asked whether a final decision will be revealed this week, but chief executive Keith Pelley had promised an announcement by the end of June.

This is the time when the build programme for the biennial match between the United States and Europe, currently scheduled for 25-27 September at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, would need to begin.

Ever since coronavirus forced sporting shutdown in March there has been speculation that the Ryder Cup would be postponed. Expectation continues to grow that there will be an extra year before Europe’s trophy defence.

Playing golf’s biggest event behind closed doors is unappealing and top stars, led by world number one Rory McIlroy, have said the match should not be played without fans present.

Another four time major winner, American Brooks Koepka, said he “possibly” would miss the event if it were staged behind closed doors.

Player power carries considerable and possibly decisive force but the situation is far from straightforward. “It isn’t just about the players, it’s about all the financial implications,” a well placed source told BBC Sport.

Television and sponsor contracts are vital. These help significantly fund the PGA of America, who run the US side of the Ryder Cup as well as the European Tour and the Professional Golfer’s Association, the Cup’s founding partner.

It is feared a delayed Ryder Cup could create an avenue for sponsors to remove their backing for the event. “It won’t just be ‘the Ryder Cup is without spectators, therefore we are not going to do it,'” the source added.

Moving the match back to 2021 would cause a significant restructuring of the golf calendar, although in the short term it would create a free week for the European Tour to stage a rescheduled Irish Open this September.

But next year there would be clashes with the Presidents Cup, which is organised by an increasingly powerful PGA Tour and Europe’s defence of the Solheim Cup in the women’s game.

The Solheim switched to odd years after the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Presidents Cup pits America’s men against the rest of the world outside Europe and is growing in worth and credibility.

Moving the Ryder Cup would impact both events but online applications remain open for tickets to the 2021 Presidents Cup to be staged at Quail Hollow.

The scramble over the future schedule creates a potential power struggle between the PGA of America and the PGA Tour, although their respective bosses, Seth Waugh and Jay Monahan, are known to be close.

“They describe themselves as brothers,” a source told me.

There are also suggestions that NBC, who screen the Ryder Cup in the United States, would prefer the match to revert back to odd years.

This would mean it would happen away from the usual shadow of Olympics and football World Cups. The Ryder Cup could re-harness potential to be the foremost global sporting event of the year in which it is played.

However, for that to happen the bodies that profit from the Ryder Cup would then have to absorb a cycle between their biggest paydays of five rather than four years. This would not have been in original budgets.

And it would need to be accommodated at a time of global economic contraction, another important and potentially worrying consideration, especially for the European Tour.

Despite a handful of positive Covid-19 tests and initially lax social distancing, the PGA Tour has shown golf can exist and entertain television audiences without fans present. They are now into the fourth week of their comeback.

The European Tour is due to return in Austria next month before six events in the UK. There will be no fans and none will be present for the first two majors – August’s US PGA Championship and the US Open at Winged Foot in New York the following month.

“If those events can happen, why can’t the Ryder Cup?” asked a former European Tour player who has been closely involved in previous matches. “I think they should play.”

This also seems to be the view of 2014 European captain Paul McGinley. “Let’s not just cancel because there is no crowd, because every other sport is getting on with it without spectators and golf has to do the same,” he said.

The continent’s most recent skipper, Thomas Bjorn, also pointed out: “Even if you postpone it until 2021, we don’t know where we are going to be.

“We are all talking almost like on 31 December, this whole thing is going to come to a stop and we can start a new year, everything is OK, but we don’t know that for a fact.”

The only truth is that certainty does not exist anywhere which is why the Ryder Cup scheduling decision is proving so difficult. If it is delayed, how will the teams be selected? US skipper Steve Stricker has had the number of his picks already increased from four to six.

Will performances on the current qualifying table be honoured? There are question marks wherever you look.

But postponement does seem the most likely outcome and the odds shorten further amid the currently ever-increasing Covid-19 numbers being suffered in the United States.

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