The NFL draft’s sky-high TV ratings told a totally unsurprising story:
Sports fans are starving for live sports to return after the virtually across-the-board iron curtain slammed down by the coronavirus pandemic.
Sports leagues are starting to make tentative plans to return to action. NASCAR says it will resume racing May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. And the PGA Tour is set to resume its schedule June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
Even if you’re not a stock car fan or a golf fan, there’s a good chance you’re going to tune in if and when those sports can get back going again. That will be the only way to catch the live action if it comes off, as none of those first few tournaments and races will have fans in the stands.
If the sporting public is aching to see some real live action after weeks of watching sports’ greatest hits, imagine what it must be like for the athletes themselves. Athletes like former LSU All-American and PGA touring pro Sam Burns.
The Shreveport native has been cooling his clubs at his home club, Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, just northeast of Ruston, doing his best to practice but knowing there is nothing that sharpens the blades (irons) like actual competition.
“My coach Brad Pullin and I have tried to come up with some creative ways to stay competitive at home,” Burns said. “I hope to be as sharp as ever when I come back.”
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In his second full season on tour, Burns, who turns 24 in July, was having a quietly productive campaign before the PGA Tour came to a screeching halt in March after the first round of The Players Championship.
Overcoming a broken ankle he suffered in July in an accident at home, Burns won $404,304 in 11 starts, ranking 122nd in FedEx Cup points. His best finish was a tie for sixth in The American Express tournament in Palm Springs, California, in January.
If Burns qualifies for the field at the Charles Schwab Challenge, he plans to make the 300-mile drive west to Fort Worth to get playing again ASAP.
“After such a long break I’m definitely looking forward to playing again,” Burns said. “If I’m in (the Charles Schwab), I plan to play.”
Restarting the PGA Tour depends on some important factors, among them ample coronavirus testing for players and caddies. A recent anonymous Golf Digest survey of touring pros found the majority of them are only comfortable returning to play if comprehensive testing is available. It theoretically seems doable, but the tour has not announced whether it will be able to lock down the required tests as yet.
“Obviously we’ll listen to the people who know the most about it,” Burns said. “The main thing is staying safe and not putting others at risk.”
It isn’t hyperbole to say it has been a bigger year for Burns off the course than on it. He proposed to his long-time girlfriend Caroline Campbell while he was playing in April 2019 in the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The two were married in December. It was the culmination of a long relationship that started when the two were little kids attending church together.
“She was actually my first Valentine when we were 5 years old,” Burns recently told PGATour.com. “Then after that she wanted nothing to do with me until high school.”
Recently, a mutual friend reached out to Burns through Caroline to throw his support behind Feeding Louisiana, a Baton Rouge-based non-profit organization whose work has taken on added significance during the coronavirus-spurred train wreck that has mangled the nation’s economy.
“It really hit home,” Burns said. “Any time you can help fellow Louisianians, we should. I don’t know how big an impact we’re going to have, but the idea of kids and elderly people not knowing where their next meal is coming from is too sad to think about.”
A winner in 2018 on golf’s version of Triple-A ball, the Korn Ferry Tour, in a tournament in Savannah, Georgia, Burns is still trying to break into the PGA Tour winner’s circle after several reasonable shots at victory.
He believes he can win, and soon, but isn’t putting pressure on himself to do so.
“It’s still really early in my career,” Burns said. “I’m just trying to get better each year, keep improving. That’s all I can really ask for. But I believe any week I could win. You have to.”
With any luck, any week will be coming relatively soon. Golf, Burns, and the rest of us need to see Sam and the rest of the PGA touring pros taking their shot, even if we’re all watching from afar.