Still testing positive, Frittelli among 3 back to work

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Nick Watney, Dylan Fritelli, of South Africa, and Denny McCarthy play during opening round of the Workday Charity Open golf tournament, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

DUBLIN, Ohio – Dylan Frittelli says it was hard not to feel like an outcast Thursday at the Workday Charity Open in a group of three players who tested positive for the coronavirus and keep doing so.

But at least he was playing.

“It was fun to get out there,” Frittelli said after his 1-over 73 at Muirfield Village. “Obviously, a few hoops to jump through yesterday. It was a little tricky situation that went on. But that's fine. Life is full of surprises, so we'll move on from there and hopefully get everything cemented in the coming weeks.”

Frittelli, Denny McCarthy and Nick Watney are among six players who have tested positive in the five weeks since the PGA Tour resumed its schedule after a three-month shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.

They went through mandatory self-isolation for 10 days. And then they tested positive again.

The tour said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its medical advisers indicated the nasal swab tests are picking up what amounts to a dead virus that isn't contagious. Because the three players met other criteria — such as 10 days since the symptoms first appeared and three days after they have recovered — they were allowed to play.

But the tour determined they should play as singles to be safe. With three such players at the Workday Charity Open, they were in the same group, on and off the golf course.

They were not allowed in the clubhouse or fitness trailer. They ate lunch in a separate room. Frittelli changed his shoes in the parking lot.

“I stretched at home. I ate breakfast in my hotel room and then straight to the parking lot,” Frittelli said. “Felt like Walter Hagen, just walked straight on to the driving range.”

The tour last week updated its policy for asymptomatic positive tests, like Cameron Champ. Because he had two negative tests 24 hours apart, he was allowed to play the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.

It clarified the policy on symptomatic tests, following “Return to Work” guidelines by the CDC. The tour said it is not unusual for players to keep testing positive even after 10 days because the nasal swab test can detect viral RNA when the infectious virus is no longer present.

“As time passes and as symptoms resolve and the patient doesn't have any fever and 10 days have passed, at that point the thought and theory is that this virus ... is no longer active or contagious or can potentially cause ongoing infection,” said Tom Hospel, the tour's medical director.

“What we have learned along the way is that in some instances, individuals can continue to test positive for weeks beyond when their illness started," he said. “And the thought is that those individuals are no longer contagious, but you're picking up dead virus.”

Watney was the first player to test positive on June 19 at the RBC Heritage. He stayed in a hotel room at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, for 12 days — two more than the minimum — before driving home to Texas. McCarthy tested positive on June 26 before the second round at the Travelers Championship, while Frittelli tested positive that weekend.

Frittelli was not surprised by the positive results from a saliva test on Monday and a nasal swab on Wednesday because his own doctor said that might happen.

“He said, ‘There a chance you could be testing for up to a month,’” Frittelli said. “I've got a friend in Japan who chatted to me. He said: ‘Dude, I’ve been testing for 28 days. I still haven't got a negative.' I knew that was a possibility.”

The surprise was that he could play. When the positive results were returned, Frittelli figured he would be out for at least another week. But then he spoke to Hospel and told him he had not had any symptoms for six days. He was cleared to play but as a single or with others in his situation.

Even so, Frittelli said he could sense a buzz around Muirfield Village from players on edge about someone testing positive still in the field.

“A lot of guys were intrigued. They were all asking me questions,” he said. “I tried to give them my best biology lesson that I could. But it spread like wildfire, and when it goes to a third, fourth, fifth source, then you hear some funny stories, so I think that’s what happened yesterday and guys started freaking out, obviously.”

The three will play again Friday. After that, it depends on their standing in the tournament. McCarthy also shot 73 and Watney finished with a double bogey for a 77. They have work to do to make the cut.

If they do make it to the weekend, they likely would go off as a single surrounded by twosomes.

“That would be a very strange scenario and a very slow, lonely round of golf,” Frittelli said. “But I mean, it's not that bad.”