Column: Anniversary marks progress of pandemic, not the end

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FILE - In this June 11, 2020 file photo, Jordan Spieth tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The PGA Tour went for most of nine months without fans and a year later is just now starting to get them back. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The backdrop was a navy blue board filled with 33 logos of The Players Championship. Sitting next to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was the gold trophy as he spoke about scrapping the tour's premier event last year and how golf made it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least there wasn't a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

It's tempting to think that way. Monahan mentioned the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” on three occasions during his news conference Tuesday, which typically is more of a “State of the Tour.” This was a state of the pandemic.

The news felt mostly positive.

The tour has played 36 out of the 39 weeks since it returned, stopping only because of holidays, not an outbreak. It never had more than three players test positive for the coronavirus at any one tournament.

Memories are still fresh from last year. Players received a text late at night after the first round saying that The Players Championship was canceled and there would be no tournaments for at least a month (it turned into three months). Bernd Wiesberger caught the last flight home to Austria. Kevin Na found a banana in one of the pockets of his golf bag, which otherwise would not have been discovered for months.

Monahan remembers missing the opening tee shot for the first time since he joined the PGA Tour as executive director of The Players Championship. He had been in a boardroom at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse with the rest of the executive staff for a meeting that lasted more than 12 hours and ended with the decision to stop playing.

“I will be there on Thursday. I look forward to it,” he said. "Just proud, most importantly, to be back here a year later — proud of our players, proud of all the caddies, everybody that has worked so hard to get us back to this point in time. And candidly, to do so in a really inspiring way.