CROMWELL, Conn. — Matt Wallace stepped out of the cart, grabbed his bag and walked the 5 feet to the first tee at TPC River Highlands. He still had six minutes before his tee time. He could have waited six hours. No one else was coming.
“It’s just me today,” he said to Ron Scheyd, the starter who announces every player’s name before they put their opening shot in the air.
One of his playing partners, Denny McCarthy, withdrew earlier in the day.
“The corona got him,” Wallace said as he stood on the tee, by himself, waiting for his caddie as they were about to begin a quiet walk at another already eerily quiet, fan-free golf course on the PGA Tour.
After McCarthy — the third player on the PGA Tour to test positive for COVID-19 — withdrew, Bud Cauley‘s name suddenly appeared with a “WD” next to it, too. Cauley had played alongside McCarthy during Thursday’s first round. According to Wallace, Cauley said he wasn’t feeling well and that’s why he decided not to tee it up Friday.
“He said that he didn’t feel good, that he didn’t feel well,” Wallace said after posting a 2-over 72. “I can understand why he wouldn’t play. I haven’t felt better myself. I’m playing with a chance to change my career if I win, so why wouldn’t I play?”
Cauley became the seventh player in this week’s Travelers Championship to withdraw because of the virus. Cameron Champ, who tested positive earlier this week, pulled out on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka withdrew after their caddies tested positive. Chase Koepka, Brooks’ brother, who earned a spot in the field as a Monday qualifier, and Webb Simpson also withdrew out of caution.
“What Denny, Bud and others are demonstrating is exactly what we asked of everyone – continue to do your part in taking this virus seriously and keeping not only your own health as a priority, but also that of your fellow competitors and those you may come in contact with,” PGA Tour commissioner said in a statement.
Yet there was Wallace standing on the tee at 1:30 p.m. ET. He was third member of the group. He stood alongside McCarthy for Thursday’s first round. They were gone from this week’s event. He played on.
“It’s black and white for me,” he said. “I tested negative. I can go play.”
But in those moments, right after his phone rang at 8 a.m. and he found out his two playing partners weren’t feeling well, he got nervous.
“We came straight up [to the golf course] and got tested,” he said. “And then stayed around here but made sure we stayed away from everyone because we knew potentially that something could happen.”
That was when his mind raced some more.
“I was scared when I heard,” he said on the first tee as players passed by, asking what happened and how he felt.
If the fear was still with him as he waited to hear his name, he hid it with a few jokes before heading off on an unusual round in a sport that has been full of them in the three weeks since the PGA Tour ‘s return after a three-month shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More players passed by. He asked them if they’d like to join.
As he got ready to hit his opening shot, he made a prediction.
“You can just mark me down for a 59.”
He waved to, well, no one after he blasted his opening tee shot 319 yards into the fairway at the downhill first hole.
After he hit, he stood there for a second, mostly out of habit. He didn’t need to; no one else was waiting to start their rounds. It was just him.
Finally, on the third hole, he heard a sound, a break from the quiet. He backed off a tee shot because a few holes ahead some people who have houses on the course at TPC River Highlands were cheering for Phil Mickelson.
Up at the green, after his birdie putt wobbled away and he tapped in for par, he fired his putter at his bag. As his caddie put the flagstick back in the hole, Wallace wandered toward the next tee mumbling to himself. After all, on this day, he didn’t have many people he could talk to, anyway.
He would have liked a playing partner alongside, and wished the PGA Tour had adjusted a tee time for him.
“Just a bit frustrated that maybe … I don’t know what the PGA Tout might think, but would [Dustin Johnson] play on his own?” Wallace said. “Would Rory [McIlroy] play on his own? I probably doubt it. So they could have dropped one of the players back from in front or maybe from behind to go ahead and play with me. Just don’t think it was a great move to leave someone out on their own in the middle of the pack.”
But on he went for the next 4 hours, 41 minutes, just him and his caddie and a lone scorer walking along. He hit his tee shot left on No. 10, then grabbed his sandwich, just a guy having lunch by himself on the golf course.
He made two bogeys and one birdie on the back nine. As he approached the 18th green, saw his ball nestled down in the rough beside the green, he shook his head. He looked tired. He was ready for a long day to be done.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the end of the world,” he said. “It hasn’t been the best day.”