ATLANTA — Xander Schauffele was in the media center near the 10th tee at East Lake, halfway through a thought on the impending PGA Tour-Saudi Public Investment Fund merger, when he stopped, shook his head and smiled. “Sorry,” he said, “my brain's a bit hot here.”
He’s not the only one. This year’s Tour Championship goes off in a week where heat indexes in Atlanta are projected to top 100 degrees almost every day of the tournament. The Braves implemented extra precautions and set up water stations all over Truist Park for their just-completed series against the Mets, and the Falcons have closed training camp practices this weekend to fans out of concern for the intense heat.
“It never seems to get easy to play in heat like this,” golfer Brian Harman said. “I just hope everybody stays safe, especially people watching. We watch a lot more fans go down than players and caddies.”
As bad as this weekend could get, it likely still won’t touch the conditions two weeks ago in Memphis at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. There, a combination of heat, humidity and rain turned the course into a sauna, with the heat index soaring over 110 degrees.
“It felt like it was just coming off the ground,” Jordan Spieth said at the time. “You could just feel the water coming off the ground. I'll bring two shirts from now on and change at the turn because I was struggling a bit early in the round. I had some goosebumps.”
“We learned some things from Memphis,” Tour Championship executive director Alex Urban said. “We wanted to find ways to mitigate heat exhaustion so that the players could focus on golf, not the heat.” The Tour has set up everything from temporary shades to coolers full of towels to devices at tee boxes designed to gradually chill players’ hands.
Fans are another concern, though as Urban notes, “it’s August in Atlanta. The heat is not a surprise to us.” The Tour has cut the cost of water bottles from $4 to $2 and set up water stations and shaded, cooling-fan-laden tents all over 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 football. 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-course galleries in the heart of college football country, was too steep, particularly after Tiger Woods stopped being a consistent presence.
Still, even though the heat may be extreme, this is business as usual for golf, as Rory McIlroy noted Wednesday.
“As an outdoor sport, I mean, we sort of chase the sun all year round, so I don't think it's something that we're not used to. We're used to playing in heat,” McIlroy said. “We have played in a lot of heat here before in Atlanta, and I'm sure we'll be OK.”