ATLANTA — Xander Schauffele was in the media center near the 10th tee at East Lake, halfway through a thought about the impending PGA Tour-Saudi Public Investment Fund merger, when he stopped, shook his head and smiled. “Sorry,” he said, “my brain is a little hot here.”
He’s not the only one. This year’s Tour Championship gets underway in one week, with heat indexes in Atlanta expected to top 100 nearly every day of the tournament. The Braves implemented extra precautions and set up water stations throughout Truist Park for their just-concluded series against Metsand the Falcons have closed training camp practices this weekend to fans out of concern about the intense heat.
“It never seems to be easy to play in heats like this,” Harman said. “I just hope everyone stays safe, especially people watching. We see a lot more fans go down than players and caddies.”
As bad as this weekend could get, it still likely won’t touch the conditions two weeks ago in Memphis at the FedEx St. Jewish Championship. There, a combination of heat, humidity and rain turned the pitch into a sauna, with the heat index rising above 110 degrees.
“It felt like it just came off the ground,” Jordan Spieth. “You could just feel the water coming off the ground. I’ll take two jerseys from now on and change at the turn because I felt a bit early in the round. I had some goosebumps.”
“We learned some things from Memphis,” said Tour Championship CEO Alex Urban. “We wanted to find ways to mitigate heat exhaustion so players could focus on golf, not the heat.” The tour has installed everything from temporary shades to coolers full of towels to devices at tee boxes designed to gradually cool players’ hands.
Fans are another concern, but as Urban notes, “it’s August in Atlanta. The heat is not a surprise to us.” The tour has reduced the price of water bottles from $4 to $2 and set up water stations and shaded tents with cooling fans throughout the course, among other amenities.
The heat at the Tour Championship is a direct consequence of the Tour moving its playoffs earlier in the calendar to avoid competition with soccer. Previously, the Tour Championship took place in late September – still a very hot time of year in Georgia, but not the face-melting heat of mid-August. But the competition for television viewers, not to mention on-field galleries in the heart of college football country, was too steep, especially after Tiger Woods ceased to be a consistent presence.
Still, while the heat may be extreme, this is business as usual for golf, as Rory McIlroy noted Wednesday.
“As an outdoor sport, I mean we kind of chase the sun all year round, so I don’t think it’s something we’re not used to. We’re used to playing in the heat,” McIlroy said. “We’ve played in a lot of heat here in Atlanta before, and I’m sure we’ll be fine.”