The lack of fans could influence players from an even more granular Xs and Os perspective as well. Golfers are accustomed to tournaments with fans lining the fairways and grandstands framing greens. That won’t be the case for at least a few weeks and here are three significant ways it could directly impact play.
More lost balls
Brooks Koepka, who has emerged as a delightfully unfiltered voice in the professional game, was asked by the Pardon My Take podcast in April how a tournament without fans would play out. His response: “Every once in a while, we just hit some foul balls and the fans kind of help you find it. I mean, guys are going to lose balls because of that.”
Indeed, under normal circumstances, each player has the luxury of fans (in addition to marshals) looking for an errant shot. If you’re playing in a star-studded group, the number of additional searchers could be hundreds. And if you’re in Tiger’s group, thousands. Spectators on either side of the landing area near the fairway usually see a ball in the air, watch it land and then locate it. Without them there, it will be incumbent for players (and caddies) to watch more intently, which isn’t always easy when your ball lands some 280-plus metres away.
Bottom line: you’re going to see way more provisional balls played, and you’re likely to see more balls lost. The three-minute limit to look for a ball – which was five minutes before the new rules went into effect last year – will loom large.
Photo: Jamie Squire
This will be even more critical this week at Colonial, where the fairways are tight, the greens are small and trees often come into play. Playing from the short grass will be of utmost importance.
No more “grandstanding”
For most amateurs, missing way long of the green is the quickest way to a big number. The ball often careens well past the putting surface into an impossible position. You’re forced to try a flop shot, often with the green sloping away from you, if you’re to have any chance to save par. On the PGA Tour, however, shots that miss long – or right, or left – often end up hitting a grandstand and bouncing back towards the hole, or ending up in the grandstand and resulting in a free drop. They essentially act as bumpers, and it’s a phenomena labelled by conspiracy theorists detractors as “grandstanding”.
Photo: Icon Sports Wire
Whether players use grandstands as backboards intentional or otherwise, the fact that they won’t be in place at the first few tournaments could have a very real impact strategy. Say a player is faced with a 230-metre approach into a par 5. There’s water short of the green and a grandstand behind it. The player is in-between clubs – his 3-wood carries about 240, but his 3-iron flies only about 215. With a grandstand there to catch anything that goes long, 3-wood would almost always be the play. Now, players will have to decide between hitting a little three-quarter 3-wood into the green or roasting a 3-iron, with danger lurking short and long.
Think we’re exaggerating? Well, here’s how Jim Furyk, who has been on tour more than 20 years put it: “There’s a lot of greens on the PGA Tour that I’m not actually sure what’s behind them because there’s usually a block of stands there every year when we play them.”
Yep, things are going to look a lot different for players without fans the next few weeks on tour.