When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world seemed to grind to a halt. People and industries began navigating what became a ‘new normal’ by quarantining, wearing face masks, social distancing and finding ways to safely get back to work. Professional sports evolved too, with leagues instituting practices that kept players in bubbles, filling their grandstands with cardboard cutouts of fans, and conducting serial testing of players, coaches and staff.
Golf organically offered its athletes a way to compete while remaining socially distanced and became one of the first professional sports to safely return to play, albeit looking and functioning a bit differently. While LPGA fans were adjusting to watching their favorite players compete on television without the backdrop of fans behind the greens and tee boxes, tournament ops teams were behind the scenes running event logistics in conjunction with a delicate series of new practices aimed at keeping players, caddies, staff, and local community members safe.
Early on the LPGA knew it needed a unique solution in COVID testing. One that could process tests not only quickly but effectively, as well as, on a global scale. The proverbial stars aligned however, thanks to a chance connection on the social media platform for business professionals, LinkedIn. Before the LPGA’s senior vice president of Tour Operations Stacey Collins joined the tour in 2018, she’d spent more than 30 years in the medical supply sales industry. Her connections across the industry coupled with LinkedIn’s powerful algorithm led her to Sean Murray divisional President of Eurofins the global leader in bio-analytical laboratory testing. During a conversation on the phone the pair realized they shared more than just a similar professional background and network of friends; Eurofins had a service that fit the exact needs of the LPGA Tour.
For more than 30 years Eurofins has been one of the world’s leading clinical diagnostics companies, offering research and testing services across nearly every industry including food, forensics, environmental, pharmaceuticals and infectious diseases. In 2020, it launched EmpowerDX, the brainchild of Eurofin’s CEO who created a new vertical for the business which would offer direct to consumer genetic and nutritional sensitivity testing. When COVID arrived however, the company quickly pivoted to meet the need for fast coronavirus testing solutions. To date, Eurofins has lent its support to a number of professional sports organizations including the World Surf League, along with universities in need of reliable testing for student-athletes and in some cases their entire student-bodies. With Eurofins’ expertise and more than 800 testing labs worldwide, the LPGA found the perfect partner, and together they created a streamlined approach to COVID testing and reporting that ESPN.com would describe as a “complex choreography”.
It would be a dance that would begin before anyone arrived at a tournament. Before players, caddies and staff can receive the green-light to travel to an LPGA event, they’re required to test negative for COVID through an at-home test provided by Eurofins. The self-administered test allows for the collection of a sample that’s then mailed to a lab which provides results 24-hours later. Then, upon arrival to each tournament venue, the first stop for everyone is a testing center where LPGA and Eurofins team members begin an intake process that includes a temperature screen and the administration of a mid-nasal swab. The samples are triple checked for the proper attribution before being sealed, and once the process is complete players are given a special wristband to wear with the words “results pending” inscribed. The wristband allows access to the tournament grounds but not to enclosed spaces until final test results are returned.
While players may be hitting balls on the range or playing a practice round following intake, a courier transports the specimens to either an airport to fly air express or drives them directly to the nearest Eurofins lab. Once at the lab, a team tests the specimens and transmits results back to players and on-site staff in as little as 12 hours. By the time a player wakes up the next morning, they’ll have the final results of their test and know exactly where they stand.
The LPGA’s process doesn’t end at just screening for the coronavirus, they’ve developed protocols for addressing what to do if and when someone tests positive too. It could be a nerve-racking dilemma amplified by being away from home and quarantining alone in a hotel room for 7 - 10 days. In those rare cases, the LPGA’s player services steps in to connect with local health officials, coordinate remote check-ins with the Tour’s on-staff doctor, and to offer grocery and laundry runs. That extra level of care helps put minds a bit more at ease.
If it all seems like a perfect blend of science, logistics and care, you’re right. And as of October, Eurofins began offering convenient at-home testing kits for consumers with the accuracy and speed in turnaround time similar to that pro sports enjoy. Kits ordered online at https://empowerdxlab.com/ are received in 24-hours and after following the kit’s simple instructions for self-administering a mid-nasal swab (not the brain-tickling kind, nasopharyngeal), results are available in 48 hours. EmpowerDx is also one of the few companies to offer at-home COVID self-collection in all 50 states and the only solution to offer an online tool that will help you quickly identify insurance coverage.
All in all, the LPGA and Eurofins’ collective efforts have gone a long way in helping players, caddies and staff get back to business. “People need sports,” says Stacey Collins, “if we can’t play golf, then players and caddies have no way of making a living, and neither does the team at the LPGA.” The LPGA Tour officially wrapped up its 2020 season the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, FL which will give the tournament operations staff a much-needed break for the holidays. From there, it’ll be back to “business as usual” for the new season, by 2020’s standards at least.