Monday marked the tenth day of self-isolation for Nick Watney, the minimum required for PGA Tour players testing positive for the new coronavirus.
He said he feels good, except for a little minor fatigue, perhaps brought on by a large case of boredom, and except for the distinction of becoming the first of what are now five players and two caddies who have tested positive since The PGA Tour returned amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
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"I will say that it is not the best feeling to be the first to get it," Watney said in his first interview since he was notified June 19 on RBC Heritage of his positive test.
"Some things are so vague about this," he said. "The symptoms … some people understand this, some understand that. I have not had a fever or cough all the time, without shortness of breath. Maybe that's the reason why it's so scary. I still don't know how or where I got it. "
He lost his sense of smell, a feeling he described as "twisted," but said he is coming back. And perhaps the strangest feeling is being at a golf resort without playing golf.
He remains on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, as the PGA Tour moved to Connecticut and now Detroit this week, and then two weeks to Ohio. The show goes on.
"Very, very boring," he said. "Being on the road and not playing golf is a strange feeling."
Three more players tested positive during the Travelers Championship: Cameron Champ before the start of the tournament, Denny McCarthy after his first round and Dylan Frittelli after missing the cut. Two caddies tested positive, triggering a chain reaction from the recalls. Harris English tested positive at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit on Monday.
Watney spent part of Monday organizing a rental car for the 17-hour trip to Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Amber, and their four children, ages 6 years to 6 months.
"I don't want to fly right now," he said. “I think this could all be a waste of time if I leave early and make someone else sick. I would feel terrible. "
He said his wife was nervous when he called her on the day of the test. She managed to test herself and the children the next day, and the tests came back negative. A week later, none have symptoms.
Watney laughed at the idea that he could be responsible for all PGA Tour players receiving a WHOOP strap, which may provide early indications of the virus. That was part of the tour trying to adjust his protocols as his schedule continues.
The strap is what alerted Watney.
He bought one a year ago to study his sleep pattern and other health metrics, trying to do whatever he can to help the 39-year-old increase his five PGA Tour victories and a Presidential Cup appearance.
It typically takes 14 breaths per minute. When he woke up Friday in Harbor Town, it was 6pm, which worried him. So he asked for a test and was on the golf course when he got the call saying he had tested positive.
"Once you're a member of the WHOOP service, they're always talking about performance," he said. “They also sent data on users who contracted the virus. A common thing was the respiratory rate. I read an article they had published, and it was alarming. I didn't wake up breathless. It was not difficult to breathe. But this thing has tracked my respiratory rate. And based on that, I thought I should get tested. "
Watney is known to be courteous, and his biggest concern was the spread of the virus. He texted Rory McIlroy, whom he saw on the practice green ("from a distance," McIlroy said) before getting his result. Sergio Garcia, who flew with him from Austin to Hilton Head, said Watney constantly texted him. "He should have said, 'I'm sorry' # 25," Garcia said.
The tour identified 11 people with whom Watney had contact. They were tested twice, with all negative results.
"I was very, very nervous about giving it to other people," Watney said. "I don't know how I got it. I don't feel it was reckless. That part is scary. It is like this invisible and silent thing.
Watney said he went to the grocery store once during the tournament week. The island was busy due to the beginning of the summer holidays, with full restaurants and full parking lots.
Since the positive test, Watney has been in his room. He said that Bill Haas' wife, Julie, went to the store and brought him 10 bags of groceries. He has spent time telephoning those who have reviewed it: players, caddies, RBC Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot.
Watney went three months without playing and managed three rounds (missed the cut at Colonial) before it was time to stop. It is number 123 in the FedEx Cup standings, and the positive test cost him at least a month of competition. Don't worry there: With the season shortened, your status won't change for next season.
He said he would feel safe after three days in a row without symptoms. He plans to start the two-day trip on Wednesday.
"I will mask myself when I find a motel," he said.