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Former Virginia golfers ready for LPGA Tour restart

Former Virginia golfers ready for LPGA Tour restart

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After months of limited sports action, fans will need to keep their TV remotes close by this weekend.

The WNBA recently started its 2020 season, and the NBA and NHL ramp up competition this weekend after months of missed time.

MLB games have returned, although the league is fighting through positive COVID-19 tests that threaten to halt or drastically change the schedule. On the golf course, the LPGA Tour returns to action Friday, joining the PGA Tour, which has been playing tournaments since mid-June.

The return of the LPGA Tour brings three former University of Virginia golfers back to the course.

Brittany Altomare, Lauren Coughlin and Elizabeth Szokol are all in the field for the LPGA Drive On Championship, a three-round event that begins Friday morning.

“I love tournament golf,” Altomare said in an email, “so I’m really excited for all those feelings to come back when we tee it up Friday.”

The 29-year-old finished in a tie for 13th in her last tournament event, which took place in Australia in February. Altomare took time off after the event, using quarantine to take her mind away from golf. She used about six weeks to prepare for the return to competitive golf.

Competitive golf looks different this summer, though.

There won’t be fans at Iverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, and that’s hardly the only change.

Players receive temperature screenings at the course, and there are testing and quarantine protocols for the duration of the season.

Handshakes, hugs and high fives are not allowed, and social distancing is encouraged.

Gaby Lopez tested positive prior to this weekend’s event and withdrew.

It’s a change from the typical tournament. At the same time, it’s still golf.

“There’s definitely more protocols to follow each day to make sure everyone is staying healthy and safe, but as for the golf I believe it will be about the same,” Altomare said. “Hopefully sometime in the future we will be allowed to have fans because playing in front of fans is what makes competing so much fun. But until then, it’s just going to be nice to compete again.”

Altomare’s return begins with a 12:33 p.m. Friday tee time. Coughlin opens the return-to-play with a 7 a.m. tee time, while Szokol quickly follows at 7:16 a.m.

For the players, their focus lies outside the coronavirus.

They want to trust the LPGA’s protocols and their focus sits on their games as they return from months off from competitive play.

Leagues like the NWSL and PGA Tour have shown that a return to play is possible. Playing golf during a pandemic can happen safely given the distant nature of the outdoor sport.

It doesn’t mean the process will be perfect — former UVa golfer Denny McCarthy was among the PGA Tour players to test positive for COVID-19 — but the events should be able to take place.

That’s great news for a group of golfers who missed the competitive game.

“It was definitely nice to see the PGA able to come back first and be able to do it so successfully,” Altomare said. “I think the LPGA was able to learn a lot from them so I feel confident in the LPGA’s ability to keep everyone safe while playing.”

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