Lee Westwood and fellow senior pros praised for role in European Tour ‘bio-bubble’

Circuit’s chief medical officer hails players for showing ‘real leadership’ at British Masters
Tournament host Lee Westwood and girlfriend caddy Helen Storey use hand sanitiser during the Betfred British Masters at Close House. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA WireTournament host Lee Westwood and girlfriend caddy Helen Storey use hand sanitiser during the Betfred British Masters at Close House. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Tournament host Lee Westwood and girlfriend caddy Helen Storey use hand sanitiser during the Betfred British Masters at Close House. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Dr Andrew Murray has heaped praise on tournament host Lee Westwood and other senior players for showing “real leadership” as the European Tour’s “bio-bubble” delivered a successful full return for the circuit in the Betfred British Masters at Close House, near Newcastle.

A rigorous £2 million-plus health safety plan drawn up by Dr Murray, an Aberdonian who lives in Edinburgh, involves a daily online health check, onsite testing both with swabs and daily temperature checks, with players, caddies and officials staying at designated hotels.

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That will not only be implemented at the remaining five events on a new UK Swing introduced as part of a revised schedule following a four-month shutdown due to the coronavirus, but at all European Tour events until the end of the 2020 season at least.

“I’m most pleased for the golfers,” Dr Murray, the tour’s chief medical officer, told The Scotsman in delivering his verdict on the circuit’s first full event using the safety plan after two co-sanctioned tournaments with the Challenge Tour in Austria. “It’s good for them to get back to work, caddies to get back to work and staff as well.

“Coming in on Monday this week, I think people could see it was an operation geared toward safety, but people were smiling, they were pleased to see each other, to see the golf course. That’s what it’s all about, safety and returning people to work, and it’s been great to see what the players and the caddies have been like in terms of social distancing and the enhanced standards of hygiene.

“I think on average there’s been about 3,000 hand sanitiser squirts a day on course, we can measure that. Little things as well, facial covering inside has been pretty well observed.

“Of course people aren’t perfect as human beings, but I think we’re all learning and it’s been a very good week. On the most part, people have very much enjoyed getting back to work and it would appear that the tournament concluded successfully.”

Englishman Andrew Johnston withdrew after just nine holes in the opening round, admitting the “bubble” environment had been the reason for that. “I’m struggling to get my head round it all,” he said of the strict protocols. Westwood, who is attached to Close House and was among the players staying onsite, also talked about how he’d felt “out of my comfort zone” and said he had never seen so many players on the range at 8 o’clock at night “trying to avoid their hotel rooms”.

“What a fantastic venue this has been, Close House and their staff have absolutely outstanding,” added Murray. “It’s a venue we know well, Forest of Arden [next up as it stages the Hero Open] is another venue we know well, but I can’t tell you how hard we’ve worked to put the correct procedures in place to produce the environment suitable for pro golf.

“We have to recognise we are an international event, so although there’s no spectators this isn’t the monthly medal, we’re bringing players from all over the world and they need to know it’s a safe environment. Close House has been absolutely outstanding in their attention to detail on this.

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“Lee Westwood really gets how important safety is now and has shown real leadership, so have [tournament committee chairman] David Howell, [his predecessor in that role] Thomas Bjorn and other senior players explaining what we’re looking to do. And then looking to get on with their goal.

“It’s the same every time in [sports] medicine, whether we’re pitch side at rugby or football, it’s to help participants to do what they do and do it well. For us, it’s about getting our golfers on the course.”

Dr Murray, who also is working with the R&A and LET on safety plans for both the AIG Women’s Open and Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open at Royal Troon and The Renaissance Club respectively, has stepped out of the shadows at golf events to become a central figure at the moment.

“We’ve always kept ourselves busy, whether that’s working in hospitals in Africa, working with governments and collaborating with other sports. Doctors are never short of stuff to do and we keep ourselves busy,” he said.

“But Covid has changed everything profoundly for everyone, and the scope of work for medical professionals is now considerable. I’ve got so many friends and colleagues who are doing amazing things in intensive care, in general practice, as pharmacists.

“My role is a wee bit more straightforward than that, but, to be honest in golf, we have a busy day normally. We have tournaments in 31 different countries, we look after more than 100 different events and we’re always liaising with governments, getting the right doctors, the right physios, the right S&C, the right nutritionists, ambulances provision and so on.

“We’re never really short of stuff to do, but it’s fair to say that we have a wonderful nanny at home now called Lucy who is helping manage things at home because it’s almost unmanageably busy. I’ve got three kids under five and a very understanding wife.”

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