Padraig Harrington doesn't shut down fan-less Ryder Cup, says event might have to 'take one for the team'

April 29, 2020

Luke Walker

European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington doesn't want the Ryder Cup to be held without fans. That much is clear. But he also isn't shutting off the possibility of a fan-less cup in these unprecedented times.

"Everyone wants fans to be there, but the question is does sport need the Ryder Cup and should the Ryder Cup take one for the team?" Harrington, a three-time major champion, told The Times.

"Would it be for the greater good of sport? It wouldn't be in the Ryder Cup's best interests, but it could be in the best interests of enough people who want to see a big sporting occasion on TV."

The Ryder Cup is scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Unlike the four major championships—three of which have been moved to later dates, while the Open Championship has been canceled for this year—the Cup has remained in its originally scheduled date despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The comments represent something of a departure from Harrington's stance just a few weeks ago, when he told BBC Radio that there was virtually no chance of a Cup without fans.

"There’s no doubt that [the crowd] makes the tournament so much better," Harrington said at that time. "I think the common consensus now is the Ryder Cup will not be played unless the fans are there."

In his more recent interview with The Times, Harrington also seemed to roll back his initial suggestion for allowing each captain to pick all 12 players for his team, given the truncated nature of this golf season and its effect on the qualification process. He told The Times there is "no scenario" in which that happens.

What, then, could explain his reversals? Perhaps it's the plight of the European Tour, which co-hosts the Ryder Cup along with the PGA of America and relies on the biennial event for a great deal of revenue. The Tour has not announced a formal plan for re-starting its schedule, and CEO Keith Pelley has warmed to players that the coronavirus pandemic will have a "profound impact on the tour financially." A delay in the Ryder Cup schedule, and the potential revenue it brings in, could make matters even worse.

Last week, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh acknowledged the possibility of staging the event without fans.

"We have begun to talk about whether you could create some virtual fan experience, and we’re going to try to be as creative as we can," Waugh told WFAN. "It’s [still] to be determined, frankly, whether you could hold it without fans or not.”

Should the Ryder Cup go forward without fans, it would do so despite multiple star players (and likely Ryder Cup participants) speaking out against the idea.

“A Ryder Cup without fans, it’s not a Ryder Cup,” said World No. 1 Rory McIlroy last week in an Instagram Live session with TaylorMade. “For me, I’d much rather they delay it until 2021 than play it at Whistling Straits without fans.

“That’s from a European, going to America, knowing that I’m going to get abuse. Obviously it would be better for Europeans to play without fans because we wouldn’t deal with some of the stuff that you have to put up with, but at the same time, it wouldn’t be a great spectacle. There would be no atmosphere. So if it came to whether they had to choose between not playing the Ryder Cup or playing it without fans, I would say just delay it a year.”