The Masters without fans is like a hot dog without mustard

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Augusta National just announced that the 2020 Masters in November will be played without any fans in attendance. Unlike almost every other major venue, Augusta is noted for its patrons, the proximity of fans to players and the unmistakable crowd roars when the leaders make birdie or eagle. How do you think the absence of fans will impact the players and the millions watching at home?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): By now, I think we’re all used to seeing golf tournaments without fans (which, sadly, is nothing new for the LPGA).  It may be additionally surreal at Augusta, but I’m sure the players are quite used to it by now.  What will be missing, though, is the EFFECT that a loud roar from elsewhere on the course can have on a player in contention on the back nine on Sunday.   The “gubnas” of Augusta should consider hiring guys with monster speakers to follow each group and hit “play” on a taped roar each time a great shot is hit or a birdie or eagle putt drops… that’d provide some normality to the proceedings!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: With today’s technology, we should be able to virtually and on TV line the fairways with fans and use recordings of taped shows to substitute for reality. The reality is Patrons have been granted use of their 2020 badges in 2021 so the only consideration is the TV viewers. This is entertainment! So, entertain us.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Well, the Augusta roars will be missed but at least we’re getting a Masters and an intimate, unprecedented look at the course. The Masters was the tournament I was most upset about potentially losing to COVID, so I’ll be more than content regardless of how this one plays out.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): So far, the lack of fans hasn’t bothered me or affected my enjoyment of the events, but that may change for the Masters.  The fact that the patrons are so well behaved at Augusta means that you don’t get annoying “Mashed Potatoes” and “Babba-boooey” shouts through the tournament.  But the big difference will be the lack of the Sunday roars when a big shot is made, that will be strange and eerily quiet.  But I’m sure if anyone can add artificial crowd noise into a golf tournament, it’ll be Augusta.  If not, it’ll just be more artificial bird sounds, I guess.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: As mentioned at an earlier gathering around the table, galleries — especially the massive throngs at Augusta National — help players’ depth perception and can often interfere with bad shots ending up where they should. I think it will be great to see the layout as TV audiences have never seen it, and the way the players have never seen it — even in practice rounds. It’ll be different for the players and viewers, maybe even better.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I don’t imagine it will affect the players much. By now, they’re used to playing without fans. However, it will be a fundamentally different Masters for those watching at home. Normally, you can almost tell what is happening on the course from the sounds, even if you have your eyes closed. That hum, which gets louder the closer a player is to the lead, will be missing. And the birdie roars too. It will still be the Masters but now we’ll have to rely on the sounds of Faldo, Nance and Baker Finch.

The Rules of Golf reared their head once again, this time at Bandon Dunes, the site of the US Amateur. In his quarter-final match, Segundo Oliva Pinto lost to eventual champion Tyler Strafaci on the 18th hole when it was alleged that Pinto’s caddie touched the sand in the bunker. The penalty was loss of hole and the match. Pinto’s caddie clearly breached the Rule but not in a way that helped his player.  It has been suggested that a rule that allowed Strafaci to waive the penalty since the infraction was not beneficial would be appropriate, but no such rule currently exists. Should it?

Deeks: Well, a “penalty declined” option would’ve been, and would be, nice… but that’s just a pill, not a cure to a disease that is the rule, in the first place.  This is just another example of my lifelong opinion that The Rules of Golf is an ass.  Honestly, I’m convinced that evil little trolls, toiling deep underground where there is no daylight, only heat and flames, are the ones who dream up these ridiculous, petty and unjustifiable “standards” to confuse, baffle, and frustrate golfers everywhere.  Most of us just ignore most of the Rules, both willfully and innocently; but to lose the tournament of a lifetime on such an obscure and inconsequential infraction? Beyond cruel.

Schurman: This happened to George Knudson over 50 years ago. His caddy smoothed the bunker causing a penalty and loss, yet here we are still arguing about rules the average golfer has no clue exist. If the ‘powers that be’ truly understood the ramifications and the responsibility they have the rules would be written in a way that not only would this situation be considered so would the actions of the everyday player. Or, bifurcation. The rules for billiards are written on one 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, the rules or Darts is about 4 paragraphs, tennis, one page, soccer, one page, curling, one page. Golf 1,679,256 books, interpretations, legal precedents, decisions, movies, court cases, mandates, rulings etc. Why? 1744 was a very fine year because pen and ink were extremely expensive. Perhaps lawyers don’t play the other sports or competitions.

Kaplan: There should be an” irrelevant” classification that rule committees can apply to these exact situations, where the infraction is unintentional and has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the hole/match/tournament. It’s ridiculous that Pinto lost his match because of this error. Hopefully, it will be a catalyst for change in the game going forward.

Rule: I don’t think that would be appropriate, all it would do is put pressure on the other player to be the nice guy, even in situations where their opponent should be penalized.  You can’t put players in that position, it has to be black and white in my mind.  It’s a shame that the penalty in the US Am was so poorly timed, I certainly feel for the player, who didn’t do anything wrong.  But if you start allowing discretion in the rules, it’s a slippery slope, and it puts the players in awkward situations.

Quinn: Had a caddie at Burnt Pine on the Florida Panhandle a few year ago, one of those mandatory hookups where the caddie rides on the back of the cart, also mandatory. Awful. Anyway, first green I see a little left to right break, he calls it right to left. I miss, badly. Next hole, I see a big left to right, he sees right to left, adding that he’s on the course every day year-round and knows the greens. I miss badly, again as it breaks as I’d suspected. I say something, perhaps salted with a few expletives, and he stops, covers his eyes with his hand, and says: “Oh man, when I’m totally wasted, I forget I’m dyslexic!” I broke up, thought it was one of the funniest lines ever, until he set me straight. He was serious.  Okay, until that caddie rubbed the sand in the US Amateur, in front of everyone plus Golf Channel cameras, that stoner in Destin was the dumbest caddie I’d come across. Don’t change the rule, as it applies to sentient golfers.

Mumford: No, absolutely not. That’s a slippery slope where players will be begging for forgiveness. If extended to stroke play, the situation gets much worse, where players could be exempting their buddies, rather than protecting the field. If it’s a bad rule, then it should be re-written but bending it, ignoring it or selectively deciding when to enforce it, isn’t a workable solution.

The FedEx Cup playoffs start this week. It’s a time of international pandemic, high unemployment, a faltering economy and great uncertainty. Last week, the PGA Tour laid off 50 long time employees, yet the players will be vying to split a $70 million purse. What kind of message is this sending to golf fans and the general public and is there a better way to set an example?

Deeks: Such a good question.  Pro golfers make far too much money, but they counter that with “compared to other major sport athletes, no we don’t… plus, we’re not on salary.”  Yeah, okay, fine.  You still make too much money… especially in “a time of international pandemic, high unemployment, a faltering economy and great uncertainty”.   A better example?  Have the players play for $70 million, then give them 10% of their winnings, with 80% going to charity, and 10% divvied up among the 50 Tour employees who lost their jobs.

Schurman: Nothing in my life comes close to the confusion, disruption, uncertainty and/or scrutiny of life in this pandemic. World leaders suddenly have become medical experts, the general public has forgotten the golden rule of “do unto others” regarding masks, people have lost businesses that should be absolute guarantees of resilience, underprivileged people and the elderly are getting blasted from every direction and you ask about excessive prize money? I am so glad to be retired! The pressure every single day on politicians, the medical profession, on those in the workforce and organizers is immense. The decision to downsize, lay-off, continue without ticket sales, try to raise money for charity or to provide entertainment and relief from the stress of daily life to millions of people is beyond comprehension. It wouldn’t matter if the total purse were given to charity or one player won the entire $70M someone would question it. My advice is: wear a mask at all times to protect others, wash your hands, social distance when you can and play golf every day. This question cannot be answered to please anyone.

Kaplan: It would be nice if the players all agreed to apportion a certain percentage of their winnings this week toward a needy cause, but that is for the players to decide upon among themselves and not the responsibility of the PGA Tour. The Tour’s responsibility is to put on the best possible tournament/playoffs that it can, and large purses are the only reason why players would play in this otherwise meaningless playoff.

Rule: It certainly doesn’t look good on the Tour that the purses remain that high when they are experiencing such vast lay offs.  Athletes in the other sports have had to forego some of their regular pay to offset team and league losses, and you would think they could do the same on the PGA Tour.  Take some off the top and help to cover salaries for some of those employees.  It’s tough to cut back on purses right through the field because some guys are fighting for their livelihoods at the bottom end, but they could definitely take some off the top you would think.

Quinn: The numbers had been bordering on obscene long before the pandemic; now they are indefensible. Most pro sports dwell in a twilight world with a tenuous connection to reality. If the planet manages to return to something resembling the old normal, it’s hard to image that new world embracing multi-million-dollar paydays for hitting baseballs, sinking baskets, driving cars in circles, or hitting 350-yard drives. This so-called “playoff” run, the guys could set an example and donate the majority of their ‘earnings’ to relief funds as the USA continues to lead the world in COVID-19 deaths.

Mumford: The PGA Tour is doing all it can to look like it’s “business as usual” but it’s not. Plenty of professional athletes, sports teams and leagues are setting examples of how to act responsibly during the pandemic with new charities, foundations and support for those that need it. The FedEx Cup playoffs have always been about the money – nobody gives a rat’s ass who wins the silly, contrived, point scramble. In today’s environment, this cash grab shows a monumental lack of empathy; a disgusting display of greed; and an ill-timed, tone deaf assault on all those who have suffered and lost due to coronavirus.

Fairways Magazine

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