If a crow’s caw-caw-caw counts as spectator cheering, then Muirfield Village Golf Club was roaring on Thursday.
But get past the noisy corvids, the chew-chew-chew of the singing cardinals and the obnoxious chatter of house sparrows and the course that Jack built felt less like a raucous celebration and more like an empty-nester’s quiet night at home.
No fans applauding great shots and groaning over missed 3-footers? No wobbly frat boys spilling beer onto their flip-flops? No summer-centric scent of suntan lotion?
It’s weird here, man.
Granted, golf is a game of whisper and shhh, but without fan energy the PGA Tour’s Workday Charity Open feels more like an ordinary event than a spectacle. That’s no knock on Muirfield Village, just another example of how the coronavirus pandemic throws a wet blanket over anything it touches.
Workday — the first live professional sporting event held in central Ohio in four months — was supposed to be a warm-up act for the Memorial Tournament, which begins next Thursday.
A one-off filler on the PGA Tour schedule after the John Deere Classic was canceled, the Workday event never was going to include fans. But the Memorial was set to welcome up to 8,000 spectators a day — until pulling the plug on that plan Monday due to a spike in COVID-19 cases locally and nationwide. Now for the next two weeks it will be all quiet on the western front of Dublin Road.
That includes at the first tee.
“All right, gentlemen, the 7:45 a.m. starting time, on the tee — Justin Thomas,” the starter announced, apparently for the benefit of Golf Channel camera operators who were the only witnesses.
- Finding balls becomes more of a challenge with no gallery tracking stray shots. Brooks Koepka hooked his drive onto the hillside left of the creek at the par-5 11th hole and looked for it about 20 yards short of its actual resting place until a TV reporter waved him to the proper location. (Aside: Koepka shanked his second shot about 10 yards into rough, hit his third about 60 yards onto the fairway and somehow still had a chance to save par. He missed the putt, but to manage bogey after hacking it for three straight shots shows why these guys are so good. It’s just unfair to rest of us.)
- There are benefits to not having fans, like walking from point A to point B without having to traverse through points E, F and G because galleries get in the way. Also, it is amazing how clearly you can pick up conversations between players when there is no crowd noise to drown them out. And there is something of the dirty little secret that many players don’t mind the peace and quiet of golf without galleries. “It’s relaxing, to be honest,” said Nick Taylor, whose opening round 5-under par 67 puts him near the lead after the first round.
Taylor, making his first start since the Players Championship in mid-March — just before COVID-19 put the sports world on lockdown — said the quiet reminds him of his amateur days.
Still, the tranquility felt peculiar. My mind wandered — more than normal, anyway — following the trio of Thomas-Koepka-Day go about their business in relative silence. I watched an ant scale an ash tree and noticed the moon waning in a blue sky.
At No. 14, normally among the loudest spots on the course, Jon Rahm chipped in for birdie from deep rough just off the green and was greeted with the sound of one hand clapping.
At least Rahm had a sense of humor about it. Looking around after his hole-out, he cracked, “Just like Tiger did it.”
Most fans get their golf fix by watching TV, not standing along the gallery ropes. (According to CBS, the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday was up 56% from last year’s event. Since the return of golf in June, the combined ratings are up 26% over the same events last year.)
What, then, is the big deal about not having fans at tournaments? Just this: The product suffers when the birdies in the trees create more noise than those on the leaderboard.