As the PGA has returned, mostly with success (and thoughts out to the players and caddies who HAVE tested positive for COVID-19 along the way), it’s been great as a golf fan to get back to watch the best players in the world (most of them, anyway) get back to what they do best.
And, as noted, in order to be as safe as possible, there have been no fans allowed ON the property. I stress the word “on” because with some of these courses, much like many we play when we can, the courses have homes on property – where fans are gathering (often in ways that don’t appear to be socially responsible, I’ll add) and shouting as loud as they can. Because there’s so few folks on course, sound travels farther and this past weekend we had our first audible “Mashed Potatoes!” get caught on audio.
But think about that – in the FOURTH week back, on Sunday, we heard the first truly ludicrous, unnecessary “Mashed Potatoes!” be yelled after someone swung. That’s an argument in and of itself to never let fans back on the course because of this alone. But here’s a litany of other good reasons not to let fans back on the course:
- Safety. I’m not just talking about the coronavirus, though of course that’s the primary reason in 2020. But I’m also talking about fans getting shelled by stray drives. Players literally carry extra gloves to sign in the event that they bean a guy in the dome. And sometimes those folks get legitimately hurt. Brooks Koepka hit a woman who lost sight in the eye that was hit. Tony Finau‘s drive hit a young woman so badly she was left bloody and bruised, and he ended up visiting her after the tournament to make amends. Without fans, this doesn’t happen (though volunteers are of course still at risk).
- More Bad Shots. This might sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. So often a pro golfer will hit a wayward shot and the outcome is much less severe because it hits a fan and stops it’s trajectory. Golfers even root for this – in the replay of the 1996 Masters, when Greg Norman lit himself on fire, the audio picks him up saying, “Hit a fan!” (Now, he should have said “Hit a patron!” given the course, but I digress.) That was 24 years ago. If someone slices the hell out of the ball, the ball is going to go way off line. Trust me, I speak from experience. The best players in the world, especially those who subscribe to the bomb-and-gouge philosophy, should reap what they sow. This extends to removing the backboards of so many grandstands that players intentionally hit into. If we’re supposed to believe that us lowly amateurs are playing the same game as the pros, this is a must.
- No Gallery Drops. Building on the last point, there’s an element to the pro game that us amateurs truly can’t relate to … and it’s that they almost NEVER lose a ball. Yes, that’s because they always keep it in play but when they don’t? There’s dozens of people near where the ball went to help look.
- The Sounds of Silence. It’s not just a Simon and Garfunkel song, it’s a much better way to listen to golf. Players balked at wearing mic’s, but they also made a good point – if the announcers just stop talking, the on-course microphones WILL pick up their talk. I’ve heard a lot of really cool golf-nerd talk between players and their caddies that we were never given access to in these last few weeks. We actually heard a Black Lives Matter protest come across the airwaves from outside the property in Detroit, and then upon hearing that this happened, the peaceful protest disbanded, having achieved its goal. That’s cool stuff. Even listening to the golfers joke around with each other is refreshing. Sure, some of these guys are not…interesting human beings, to say the least, but isn’t it better than hearing dipshits race to be the first to yell GET IN THE HOLE! after a tee shot on a par-5? (Spoiler Alert: It is better, yes.)
- TV Has to Step Up. This is the flimsiest reason but I stand by it – without fans there, there is more course for us to see – whether that’s drone footage they couldn’t do before (due to insurance fearing the drone would crash into a fan), more fly-overs, and even just more interesting discussion by the announcing crew. It got old, but listening to SIR Nick Faldo debate whether or not Bryson DeChambeau should switch to steel shafts on his wedges and then going into WHY that would make more sense was the kind of thing I feel like we normally don’t get access to. Anything that forces our coverage to get more creative and change is a good thing.
So, what are the downsides? The tour makes less money – it can’t sell tickets, or merchandise or food and beverages. That’s non-trivial, of course. This can mean less money for charities, it can mean a smaller pot of money for the prize pot (though this hasn’t been the case yet) and for smaller tours like the Korn Ferry Tour and even the LPGA that could be threatening to the financial future of those tours. Obviously, that’s bad news. And there’s less of a chance for gems where the players interact with kids and others on the course. That’s a bummer, too.
I’ll acknowledge that tournaments like The Ryder Cup and even The Presidents Cup just make way less sense without fans. Majors likely qualify for that distinction, too. But do we really NEED fans at the Sanderson Farms Championship or the RBC Heritage? Evidence suggests that we do not, and that maybe the PGA would even be a better spectator sport if we kept it this way.