Ryder Cup 2021: Why this controversial rule will be in effect should a player test COVID positive

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HAVEN, Wis.—The signage at Whistling Straits says “Ryder Cup 2020” which can give the occasional fan pause, considering it is, well, 2021. The outdated logo is a ubiquitous reminder that this event was postponed, and its date—a year that will live in infamy—a reminder why. But as the world wishes, and inches, towards a post-pandemic world, that is a finish line not crossed, and Tuesday’s media sessions with European captain Padraig Harrington indicated that COVID-19 still hovers over this competition.

Speaking to the media Tuesday afternoon in Haven, Wisc., Harrington was asked what would happen in the event a player tests positive for the virus and if he and American captain Steve Stricker have an agreement in place for such a scenario.

“Yes, there is—there’s lots of protocols,” Harrington said. “I assume the captains’ agreement is public, is it? So just like an injury name in the envelope, there’s a COVID name in the envelope.”

That would be the “Envelope Rule,” where each captain places a player’s name in an envelope, and in the event a player from the other side can’t play due to injury, said name in the envelope would sit out in singles with each side getting half a point. It has been a matter of controversy in the past, most notably in 1991 when Steve Pate was unable to play his Sunday match from injuries suffered in an accident earlier in the week, although Pate had played on Saturday and lost. With the half point secured, the U.S. edged out the Europeans 14 ½ to 13 ½.

Here is how a COVID situation will be handled, according to the Captain’s Agreement:

“When the captains lodge their team selection for singles play, they must provide a second sealed envelope containing the name of three players (in order of substitution) who are regarded as having been paired with the player’s who, due to COVID-19, have to withdraw from the other side. Such pairings are regarded as tied matches. If this requires the re-pairing of a match, this will be done down the order of the play.

“If one or two players from each team withdraw due to COVID-19, then they are treated as having been paired together (regardless of hidden selections) and the one or two other players from the particular matches will play each other.”

However, Harrington said he was unsure of what would happen in the scenario of a COVID-19 outbreak, as the agreement does not make mention of this possibility either.

“While we’ve asked, it’s still not completely clear what happens when we have—if, God forbid, we had a COVID outbreak of a number of players, but for one player it’s pretty straightforward,” Harrington said. “Obviously the first two days it’s four players sit out. I’m sure … so there’s no issues on those two days, but obviously on Sunday you start losing a few players to COVID, it does affect the match in some way.”

Of course, this is once the Ryder Cup has started. Should a player be injured or test positive prior to the opening ceremonies, each team can put an alternate on the roster. The Americans would be able to choose any player they want, per the agreement. The Europeans do not have that luxury, and their process is a bit more complex.

If the withdrawal is one of the five players who qualified from the World Points list, he will be replaced by the next player not already on the team from the list. That would be Victor Perez. There is some complicated language should the player come from the European list, but ultimately that player, along with any player who is a captain’s pick, can be replaced by anyone of Harrington’s choosing.

The 43rd Ryder Cup begins on Friday, Sept. 24, with the opening ceremonies slated for Sept. 23.

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