(Ken Tackett’s Tee to Green interview)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Ken Tackett misses the crowds.
His professional career thrives on live audiences and his hobby does as well. The Capital High School graduate, Charleston native and former Executive Director of the West Virginia Golf Association is a rules official on the PGA Tour.
Tournaments have been shut down since mid-March due to the pandemic but the PGA will be one of the first major professional sports organizations to return to competition. They are scheduled to do so on June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Tex.
Tackett will return to the course in the second scheduled event a week later at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C. The first four events will be played without fans in attendance.
“Three weeks in we go to Connecticut and then Detroit,” Tackett said. “Those are a little more strenuous, challenging areas. There won’t be any fans on site. You won’t see the big structures, the grandstands, those types of things. You are not going to see concession stands. But as far as the golf goes, they will be playing under the rules of golf.”
Playing without spectators can create fewer obstacles for the golfers to navigate. But Tackett says an empty course also provides an unforeseen challenge.
“There won’t be as many bodies out there so you will have more ball searches. You will see more provisional balls being played on the PGA Tour than typically. People always ask, ‘Why don’t they play provisionals?’ Well, you have two or three hundred people out there. They typically find the ball.
“These guys hit it long. But when it goes crooked, it goes crooked. So there will be lost balls and that will make our job a little more challenging.”
Players will be tested frequently and international players are asked to arrive in the United States at least two weeks before competing.
“Everybody in life just wants to get back to normal. We all know until a vaccine or prophylactic drugs are available, we are going to have to be very careful. We are going to have to practice social distancing and good hygiene.”
As part of his duties as a rules official, Tackett is on the course during tournaments, handling whatever rules questions may arise. He is also an ‘advance official’ for some tournaments. Tackett coordinates with local course officials well in advance of an event to make sure course conditions and setups meet tour standards. He will be in charge of tournaments in North Carolina, Korea, Florida, Hawaii and Mexico.
“Each facility and each site has folks on the ground that you have to coordinate with and make sure everything is following the standards that are expected of the PGA Tour.”
Three of the four major championships have been pushed back from their originally scheduled dates. The PGA Championship has been moved from May to August. The U.S. Open is now in September and The Masters will take place in November. It is expected that fans will be reintroduced to events in mid-July. Tackett is scheduled to work both the U.S. Open and The Masters.
“It is a short-term solution getting us back to playing without fans. There is an effort to get fans back slowly. I don’t think it will go from zero to a hundred. I think you will see a marginal fan base get back in and then it will be the way it was, hopefully sooner than later.”
As the PGA Tour transitions back to normal over the coming weeks, the golf itself will look very similar to the days prior to the pandemic. But Tackett will miss the hushed anticipation created by fans that can come throughout the back nine on Sunday.
“The silence that the crowd presents if you have a clutch eight-footer to win the tournament, it is gone. You don’t have the free throw to make at the end of a basketball game. All these things are going to change and it is going to definitely change the professional game in all sports as we know it.”
The applause on the golf course is not the only sound that resonates with Tackett. He an accomplished drummer and has performed with West Virginia native Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.
“It is tough. You can’t really do the performances in the small restaurant gigs, the concert halls. All of that is on hold right now. I have seen some pretty cool online concerts. But it is not the same as the energy of live music.”
During the tour shutdown, Tackett returned home to Kanawha County where he enjoyed the unexpected gap in the schedule with his family. His son Zachary is a golfer and his daughter Hannah is a top-tier musician as well.
“She will be attending WVU in the fall. She was first chair violinist in the all-state orchestra this year and she was all-national orchestra. She is the real deal.”