No fans at THE PLAYERS Championship, but show will go on
Pros anticipate ‘weird experience’ for final 54 holes at TPC Sawgrass
March 12, 2020
By Cameron Morfit and Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- March 12, 2020
- Webb Simpson carded a 4-under 68 in the opening round of THE PLAYERS Championship. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Bubba Watson was walking to the 17th tee Thursday when the police officer assigned to his group told him the news:
There would be no fans for the remainder of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
“I’m a head case, so I’m worried just like anybody else,” said Watson (71). “If anybody says they’re not worried, they’re just lyin’. It’s one of those things we’re all worried about, we’re all trying to do the right things. Hopefully this blows over and we get back to normal life, but for the next few weeks, or the next few months, normal life is going to be disrupted a little bit.”
In addition to the final 54 holes of THE PLAYERS, there will be no fans at upcoming TOUR events through the Valero Texas Open, April 2-5, as the PGA TOUR continues to monitor the Coronavirus situation.
Commissioner Jay Monahan provides update on THE PLAYERS Championship
It will not be the first time a TOUR event has been played without galleries. Fans weren’t allowed on the course for the second round of the ZOZO Championship earlier this season, but that was because of rain and course damage. The same was true of the final round of the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open and round three of the 2012 AT&T National.
A global pandemic, though, is something altogether different.
Amid news of the NBA suspending its season – a Utah Jazz player has tested positive – and other suspensions and cancellations in and out of sports, PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan made the no-fans announcement at noon Thursday. The TOUR continues to monitor health information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, and travel advisories provided by the U.S. State Department.
Meanwhile, the show goes on at THE PLAYERS, minus the fans.
“I've never played a TOUR event like we were going to play tomorrow with no fans,” said Phil Mickelson (75), making the 623rd start of his TOUR career. “It will be a very weird experience, and I feel bad for the people here that have supported this tournament for so many decades to not be able to come on out. But this is a pretty serious thing.”
Marc Leishman (67) was in the field at the 2012 AT&T National when no fans were allowed. In fact, he played in the group in front of Tiger Woods, which usually means huge galleries. But not that day.
“Just the grounds staff and such, so it’s different,” Leishman said. “We're going to have to work on getting the competitive juices flowing, even though there's no crowds. I don't really play much golf on my weeks off, so I don't generally play with no people around, even when I play at home.”
“I mean it's definitely going to be different and it's not going to be as fun,” added Justin Thomas (71), who heard the news as he and Rickie Fowler (76) and Jordan Spieth (75) made the turn.
As for his score, Thomas said: “It doesn’t really matter.”
He and others supported the TOUR’s decision as necessary and bigger than golf.
“Great first step,” said Lucas Glover (70). “It's what we had to do.”
Gary Woodland (74) also said it was “the right call,” and added he heard some fans talking about the news mid-round. Spieth did, too, but initially wasn’t sure what they were talking about.
“A couple times guys were saying, ‘We're going to miss you guys this weekend’ during the middle of the round,” he said. “We thought that was kind of rude, like meaning we're not going to be here this weekend (after missing the cut), and then I realized that … there's no spectators the rest of the week, and I was like, all right, we'll let that guy off.”
Several players had to think when asked when they last played competitively without fans.
“I never have,” said Aaron Baddeley (71). “It’s going to be different.”
“There's been events,” Thomas said, “where if I'm not playing very well, you tee off at 7 a.m. and you look over and it is my mom and dad and my uncle or something and you're talking with them walking down the fairway because you're in 54th place or whatever it might be.
“In terms of an actual tournament,” he added, “I mean probably going back to high school golf or college golf, I mean even small college events still had fans, so it's just it's going to be wild.”
Added Scottie Scheffler, who shot a 4-under 68 in his first competitive round at THE PLAYERS, “I'm sure it'll be a little weird. I really don't know what to expect, and it may be like high school golf again; there's going to be nobody out there but me and my mom and dad.”
Unlike the NBA and other leagues who are suspending play for the time being, TOUR pros said the unique nature of golf – outdoors and spread out over 400 acres, in the case of TPC Sawgrass – allows them to continue to play.
“We're outside, we're an outdoor sport, and I think that really helps,” said 2018 PLAYERS champion Webb Simpson. “Heck, we're probably better off continuing to play tournaments than … being inside, so I think it's a good call.”
The silver lining, several players said, will be the continuing TV coverage.
“Without fans it’ll be a bummer,” said Jimmy Walker (69). “But our TV (coverage) is pretty strong, so fans will still get to feel like they're part of it and watch.”