When Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to win the 2017 Travelers Championship, the celebration thereafter instantly became one of the most memorable moments in recent golf history.
The photos of an excited Spieth flinging his club and jumping in the air to chest bump his longtime caddie Michael Greller – with a backdrop of fans at TPC River Highlands going absolutely bonkers – is one of the most iconic golf photos of all time.
It’s why fans are an essential component of the total PGA Tour experience.
Would Tiger Woods’ 15th major victory at Augusta felt the same without the fans (or patrons) on the 18th green, raising their arms in unison, and roaring along?
Would Hale Irwin’s chip-in at Medinah to win the 1990 U.S. Open have been as iconic without the fans partaking in his victory lap?
Yet for the third week in a row, due to the COVID-19 crisis, players will tee it up in a PGA Tour event without a single fan on-site in Connecticut. It will be much of the same at next week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Michigan.
A few weeks later, in late July, the 3M Open in Minnesota will also be contested free of fans, as will the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park (California) in early August. (The John Deere Classic cancelled its event outright after being denied fan participation by the state of Illinois.)
In fact, looking at the PGA Tour’s compressed schedule, only the Memorial Tournament – set for July 16-19 in Dublin, Ohio – has been granted approval to host fans.
So, with it looking like a season of mostly fan-free events, what will the impact be – what’s the difference to the players?
Spieth, who has been in a something of a career-changing slump since 2018, believes the empty courses will make it easier for players to focus and win.
“In general, it’s easier to win on the PGA Tour without fans is what I’ve seen the first couple of weeks,” said Spieth, who has mixed results (T10, T68) in his two post COVID-19 starts.
“It’s easier to just be zoned in on pure golf. Not much has changed in terms of the “X’s and O’s” of a round. Maybe the targets and sight lines are a tad different, without a grandstand in the distance or a fan waiting behind the green.
“Errant tee shots are perhaps punished a bit more without people standing along the rope line to knock down the ball.”
Spieth thinks it will especially benefit those players seeking their first major title.
“Clearly there’s no way of measuring this having not played a major yet (without fans),” continued Spieth, a three-time major winner.
“But I would imagine it would be easier to win for your first time in a major without fans just because of the atmosphere.”
As an example, Spieth cited his weekend rounds at Colonial, where there was no tour-like vibe.
“It felt like I was playing Thursday’s round. It felt no different,” said Spieth. “You know where you are by looking at the scoreboard, but without any fans and roars and that stuff that make an impact, and then the settings on the last few holes that you normally get at Tour events, it’s very much different.
“I would think it’s more comfortable coming down the stretch than it would normally be.”