Seth Waugh, the chief executive of the P.G.A. of America since 2018, is ready to hold the biennial Ryder Cup, a year after it was postponed because of the pandemic.
The Ryder Cup, with 12 golfers from the United States pitted against 12 from Europe over three days starting on Friday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, has become more than a golf tournament; it has become a raucous event that Waugh described as a combination of the Super Bowl and a Rolling Stones concert. No other golf tournament regularly has players and fans taunting each other.
This year, after Covid-19 seemed to ebb in the spring, the Delta variant has surged back, presenting a challenge to an event that typically hosts about 40,000-plus, all following only a few players.
Add to that the tension over critical comments made between two of the U.S. team’s top players — Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka — which has led fans to taunt DeChambeau. Waugh said he, like the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, would not tolerate bullying. “We’ll be vigilant to make sure it doesn’t cross the line,” Waugh said. “We’ll enforce it if it does.”
This year, the P.G.A. of America has created an award to recognize sportsmanship in the contest. The Nicklaus-Jacklin Award commemorates Jack Nicklaus’s conceding a short putt to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup. As a result, the match ended in a tie.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
What will be different about the Ryder Cup this year?
There will be different protocols, with masks indoors and masks in some of the more crowded seating areas. The players are likely to be in a bubble. We can’t ensure that everyone is vaccinated, but to make sure we can have a final putt on Sunday we’re going to put them in a bubble. We contemplated checking vaccinations for the fans, but we couldn’t guarantee all the players were going to be vaccinated, so how could we check all the fans?
Will European fans be able to come?
We said we’d offer refunds for people who couldn’t come or didn’t want to come now. It’s only been a small number of Europeans who have asked for refunds. We hope there will be a good attendance on both sides.
How did the planning change with Covid?
Part of it is how much more we learned about the virus. There wasn’t as much knowledge last year. We didn’t know how hard it was to catch it outdoors. We think there are natural advantages of being outdoors that make it safe for people to be there. Indoors we’ll have masks. People have gotten better at living with this thing. That’s very different than it was a year ago. We came to the conclusion that the amount of fans doesn’t make a difference. It’s the protocols.
How are you preserving the spirit of the event?
The first Ryder Cup I went to was at the Belfry in 1993. It was the year Davis Love III made the putt to win. I can tell you I was on the 18th green when he made the putt, but I didn’t see it. I just saw him raise his putter. The experience is the excitement. It’s being there, it’s the fans. If you’re at a Stones concert and you’re not in the front row you don’t see Mick Jagger, but you’re still there hearing “Jumping Jack Flash.”
What do you hope this year’s contest will achieve?
The Ryder Cup is about fostering relations between each side. We’re trying to recapture some of that purity with the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award. We want to make the stress and the tension of the Ryder Cup the best moment of a player’s life. I hope it will recapture the spirit of what these things should be.
Everyone is just fatigued and worn out by this pandemic. Normally, you come back from summer and you’re ready to go. But we’re hurt animals. People haven’t been together for a long time. Schools haven’t been schools, work hasn’t been work, games haven’t been games. The world needs a Ryder Cup to remind us of the good in the world.