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Q&A: PGA golfer Troy Merritt on golf returning as one of the first live sports on television



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Sports are slowly but surely starting to creep back into our lives. In Europe, the top soccer leagues have returned in Germany, England, Italy, and Spain, each of these countries having successfully flattened the rate of COVID-19 infections. But in the U.S., the story is a bit different as the coronavirus pandemic surges in some Southern and West Coast states.

That leaves the future of sports still uncertain on this side of the pond. The NBA is scheduled to resume at Walt Disney World on July 31, but COVID-19 cases are currently spiking in Florida. The NHL is still working through its return plan. MLB owners voted on a 60-game return plan earlier this week but still have hurdles to clear before that becomes official. Even the NFL, set to return in the fall, isn’t guaranteed to start on time.

One of the few sports that is successfully back in action? Golf. The PGA Tour resumed on June 11 with the Colonial National Invitation Tournament in Fort Worth. As with similar reopening measures across the country, the PGA has implemented strict social distancing procedures. To get a sense of how the return is going and what it’s like being one of the few sports on television in a nation starved of athletics, Fortune spoke with PGA Tour golfer Troy Merritt.

Troy Merritt joined the PGA tour in 2008 and has 2 career tour victories.
Photo Illustration by Fortune; Images: Michael Reaves—Getty Imagesl; Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images

This conversation has been lightly edited.

Fortune: Golf made its return this week after a three-month hiatus. It’s one of the few sports on live television right now. How have you found the experience so far, in one of the few sports available to consumers at the moment?

Troy Merritt: The nice thing about playing golf, unfortunately, is when you take out the fan aspect of it, we can social distance pretty well. We play on a pretty big ballpark week in and week out. We played the Colonial [National Invitation Tournament] last week and the Heritage Classic in Hilton Head this week. They’re smaller and tighter venues, so we’ve had to be reminded by tour officials time and time again to social distance, just because there’s not as much space. Once we get to bigger courses, it’s not going to be as much of a problem. The only thing we’re missing is that fan interaction—the clapping, the cheers, the boos, sometimes the heckling.

A lot of the guys kind of social distance most weeks anyways. We keep to ourselves. We’re not out partying all the time; we grab-and-go dinner. We spend a lot of time at the course hotel. So in that aspect, it’s not that much different. We’re not supposed to be out at restaurants right now; we just got reminded again this morning. The only thing really different is that we have a lot of hand sanitizer on the golf course right now and a couple restrictions where you can and can’t go. And then that nasal swab week in, week out is something that is not overly desirable.

In addition to the nasal swab for COVID-19 testing, there are some other safety procedures that you have to adhere to: fever screenings on a daily basis, filling out tracing questionnaires, and so on. Does it provide a sense of security and relief or do you view it as more of an errand or task you have to deal with?

We get a text message every morning regarding our health. It’s two questions, you fill them out and submit them. If there are any issues, [the PGA is] right on top of it. If [a player] had a cough, they’re getting a call within seconds. The temperature screening is different but very noninvasive. It doesn’t take any of your time at all, you’re just walking through.

The tour has done a fantastic job. They’ve had to go over the top to make sure we can play. You have to give them credit for that. And you have to give credit to the players and caddies. For the most part, we’re doing our best. We don’t want to get shut down. This is our livelihood, how we make a living, and we don’t want that taken away. We’re learning as we go. We’ll try to improve each and every week. We want to give folks back home something to watch, something to cheer for. I know they’ve been missing that for the past couple of months. Whatever we can do to help others out, I think that’s a pretty small ask.

We want to give folks back home something to watch, something to cheer for.

Troy Merritt

Does it feel as if there’s heightened attention around the tournament and sport right now, since golf is one of the few live sports on television? Without many other sports to compete with at the moment, do you find there’s more interest and intrigue generated?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if we’ve brought in people who don’t normally watch golf. But I know that the average golf fan to the absolute fanatic have been very happy to see the PGA Tour back—especially with the quality of the [competitive] fields the first two weeks. We usually don’t see the big names in these two events as much: To have each of the top five players for both weeks, to have 15 of the top 20 players in the world playing here in Hilton Head, which is usually bypassed by the big names because it’s the week after the Masters, the fans are loving it. I know my friends back home are absolutely loving watching golf on live TV, along with my family. It’s been nice to be able to provide that product, and we just want to make sure we take care of business so that we don’t have people saying, “I told you so. You guys shouldn’t have been opening back up so soon.”

As an athlete in general, what are your thoughts on the role fans and spectators play? How do you see the world of sports operating potentially for another year at least—maybe more—without the availability of fans?

Golf is a little bit different. It was jokingly said that the only big difference would be some of the marquee groups [of fans]. Those guys that hit errant shots are going to end up in bad spots instead of accidentally hitting spectators and ending up back in the fairway maybe. We don’t hear the roars coming down the stretch when a guy makes birdie to get into contention or take the lead, so you really don’t know what’s going on in that respect. But we’re doing just fine.

With regard to other sports, it’s going to be vastly different—we’re seeing it with soccer now. Basketball is going to be different when it starts back up. Hockey will be different. And football, I think, will have the biggest impact. You want to talk about a crazy game in the States? Football is it. Whether or not they play, whether or not they play with fans or a limited number of fans, it’s going to impact the game a little bit. The guys will love being back out there, I imagine, but to play with limited to no fans is something they’re really going to have to adjust to. 

Are there any silver linings to navigating the strict coronavirus measures in place?

The nice part about our job is that not only are we professional golfers, but we’re professional travelers. We’re used to taking care of ourselves while we’re in airports and restaurants: washing our hands, staying away from other people, showering when we get to our destination and getting the airplane and airport germs off of us. I will say I’ve used hand sanitizer a lot more these past two weeks than I ever have in my life. You’re just trying to do these little things. They’re not asking us to use it at every hole, but when you see the stations every four to five holes you wipe your hands off. You do catch yourself thinking, “Maybe in years past I didn’t wash my hands quite enough. Maybe in the past I didn’t take care of myself like I should have.” You’re just trying to find different ways to keep yourself healthy and clean, and that’s the learning curve we’re all going through these days.

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Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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China’s top leaders meet this week to plan for the next five years. Here’s what to expect



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Former Facebook employee’s new book exposes Big Tech’s dirty secrets



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Shortly after Mark Luckie left his job as a manager at Facebook in 2018, he revealed in a blog post an internal memo he sent to colleagues before he left. The topic? How Facebook fails its Black employees. Now, nearly two years later, he’s written a lightly fictionalized version of how Big Tech companies operate and the burden they put on some of their employees.

The novel, Valley Girls, tells the story through the lens of four main characters working in the communications department of tech firm, Elemynt, which Luckie said has elements of companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook. The story starts with optimism and gets progressively worse as the characters—all women—are put in increasingly compromising positions at work. Luckie said he wrote the book as fiction partly to protect his sources, many of whom had signed nondisclosure agreements with their employers.

“This is very much a part of tech people don’t see or hear about,” Luckie said in an interview. “When scandals arrive, they think of CEOs and executives. They rarely think about the people crafting the message around it.”

Luckie has worked for companies including Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, in various roles that aid with influencer and media partnerships. During his time at the tech companies he said he watched young ambitious professionals, many of whom were women, join the communication teams only to face situations in which they might have to “hide” company information or “negotiate” their way out of it even if they ultimately disagreed with the company.

With two journalism degrees and professional experience at major media companies, Luckie wanted to write again following his exit from the tech industry. He still has lingering worries about how Big Tech companies operate and the very real-world consequences, like live-streamed shootings on their services and hate groups using their tools for coordinated attacks.

Luckie recognized his privilege as a man who now had the freedom to stand up for others, and that’s ultimately what led him to write his new book. “The thing I kept thinking about is if I have to endure a little trauma to relieve others of theirs then I’m all for it,” he said.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Fortune: How many of the stories in this book are true?

Luckie: Everything in this book is either a mashup or direct reference to something that has happened in real life in tech companies, though not one in particular. Readers who are very familiar with tech are going to recognize where these references come from.

I talked to about 40 women. Some were small conversations, some were large. But it was to understand this world from a female perspective, everything from sexual harassment to what it’s like to have feminine products in the bathroom. The biggest question I asked them is, how accurate is this as a representation of what you go through?

The name you chose for the book has already received backlash. Why did you choose Valley Girls as the title?

“Valley Girls” is a reference to the valley girls of the ’80s who were these supposedly dumb, ditzy blondes who hung at the mall. Even before I wrote a word of the book, I was thinking about how the term references how women in tech are treated as not as intelligent as men.

Having a book about women that references “girls” in the title would be controversial, but it encapsulates the sense of the book, which is the challenges they face. I had to prepare myself mentally for the kind of blowback it would receive. But what I came to realize is the title is the least controversial part of the book.

Why did you choose to focus on the experience of women?

What’s most important is this book isn’t exclusively about women’s experiences. This is the lens through which the book is presented. It’s more about how different types of women and men and people from various races and sexual orientations and abilities intersect and the friction that that causes.

The reason why I wrote the memo [upon my departure from Facebook] is because every week people reached out saying, “I had this problem with managers and the work I do.” Most of those conversations were with women. So I incorporated those experiences in this. I know this book would’ve had another dimension if it was a book about women by a woman. But I hope this is a springboard for people of all genders to tell their stories.

What did you learn while writing this book?

The biggest lesson I learned is that I was not alone in the experiences I went through, and that there are many shared stories across various demographics. It was also understanding just how bad tech companies are from the inside. When you put all this info together in 150,000 words, the ethics are quite questionable from the employee level to the CEO level.

I’ve been in a lot of rooms and have been privy to conversations about user suppression, interactions with government officials, hiding company secrets, manipulation of employees, and internal discussions. I’ve kept secrets even from family and friends about what I witnessed. And I decided I’m more obligated to making society less dysfunctional than propping up tech companies.

What might people be most surprised to hear?

People will be surprised to hear a lot. The many amenities that tech employees are afforded from childcare to spa treatments to in-flight manicures. The vending machines with free tech—keyboards, mice, headphones, things that cost hundreds of dollars are there for the taking.

As the book goes on those amenities are used to get people to work as much as possible and quell employee protest. Because if a company is giving you everything you need, if there’s a wine bar around the corner and an arcade, how bad could it really be? But there’s everything from discussions about user verification to the effects of the exploitation of celebrity culture to sexual harassment and assault.

What do you hope this book does for people who read it?

This is about sharing the torch of knowledge, putting it into the hands of people, and letting them do what they want, whether it’s to stay on the platform or not. For government and civil organizations, it’s a guide to help them hold tech companies accountable. It’s a guide for reporters and journalists to better understand the inner workings of the companies.

This is going to be useful for people who are not familiar with tech to understand what’s going on inside these companies. That’s who I really wrote it for—the average individual.

What is the fix for these problems you explore at Big Tech companies?

The fix is when tech companies’ bottom line is affected by regulation or users leaving the platform. That’s when the change is really going to happen. Right now, they have no incentive to change.

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Dow futures fall 150 points after U.S. coronavirus cases surge to record



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