From the Magazine
October 20, 2020

What players actually think about tour events with no fans

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Rob Carr

Whats it like on tour without fans? You came to the right place. I’ve seen what the players have said, and though I’m not calling them liars, they aren’t being honest, either. In their defense, what are players supposed to say? We’re glad fans are at home. They’re pests. This makes our jobs so less demanding. Come on. No one is that boneheaded.

But it’s the truth.

Listen, everyone misses fans. Most players are alphas; they enjoy entertaining you, and there’s no drug that feels as good as doing what you love and getting loved for it. On the caddie front, no one ever accused us of being introverted souls. But the fact is, life at the golf course is easier without spectators.

You probably think I’m talking about stress. Well, no, but let’s tackle that in a moment. To a degree, there’s less pressure without galleries. Imagine doing your job with 30,000 people hovering over your shoulder. Now picture working on your laptop at home. Any rational human chooses Option 2.

That doesn’t mean what we’re doing now amounts to a high-stakes game at your local club. Careers are on the line. Every day, every shot. We were in the mix at a restart event. Screams or silence, your heart pumps like you just pounded espresso beans. Trust me, no one needs a filled grandstand to feel the heat.

OK, maybe no one. I heard the comments from Tiger and Rory, that they’re struggling to adapt to the fan-less atmosphere. You can’t print my initial reaction, but after mulling it over, I get it. What they deal with is so far removed from the average tour experience that this new environment is a glitch in their Matrix. Here’s the thing, though: That applies to maybe 10 players out of the 150-something regulars out here. Take Kevin Streelman. Been nails for a decade, won some events, made bank. There are tournament directors who don’t recognize Kevin Streelman when he walks into a clubhouse. We’re in the show, but there’s a lot of anonymity in the show. So for a lot of players and caddies, the upshot of no fans is quashing … well, the awkwardness.

Many tournaments don’t have massive gatherings on Thursday and Friday, or any morning round, for that matter. If you’re not a star—and we just established how rare that label is—most of your round is played in front of three dozen fans who aren’t invested in your score. Out of those 30 or so people, half are golfers, meaning a good shot receives a smattering of applause. At times you feel like you’ve invaded someone’s private party. One former player told me it’s harder to play in front of a handful of fans than 5,000 of them. The crowd blends into the landscape, but individuals pop out. More than a decade into this, he’s right. It’s weird, and you never quite get used to it.

When we do see crowds, whether it’s a weekend afternoon or a de facto party hole, there’s going to be at least one jackhole. Every. Single. Time. You pray that he—it’s always a he—doesn’t yell before your man makes contact. The disinterested chatter from hospitality suites isn’t a major concern, yet the background noise is there. The game presents enough distractions as is; eliminating the outside buzz the past three months hasn’t hurt.

Also helping—how do I put this?—is a lack of bells and whistles. It feels less like a professional sports league, more like a very serious member-guest that’s being televised. For caddies, that means fewer well-meaning volunteers who need to see credentials at various checkpoints, or less standing around as a player is hassled by autograph seekers. Plus, you’ve seen those whales we call golf bags. Sorry for stating the obvious, but it’s just physically easier to navigate a golf course without thousands of people in your way.

Notice I said easier, not better. I mean, yes, some of it is better. But it’s a fleeting feeling, because better is brought on by an outside world that is decidedly not better, and won’t be for some time. A lot of us don’t look at what we talked about as benefits. Just that things are easier.

OK, one thing is better: no pro-ams. Do you see brokers in the layup line at an NBA game? How about salesmen taking hacks in the batting cage at Fenway Park? Listen, the Wednesday events do a lot for charity. We meet some interesting people through them, and no, they’re not all chops. But if you’re asking if I’d rather my man prep for a tournament by (a) playing with fellow pros or (b) acting as a tour guide … I think you know my answer. —WITH JOEL BEALL