Certainly, one of the most significant adaptations we have seen in the last calendar year has been the continuation of professional sports. Many believed sports had no chance to return, and the pandemic would surely get the best of them.
There have been severe changes in the atmosphere around professional sports being played, the main being no fans. Specifically, I have found it fascinating how the PGA Tour has fared through arguably the most transitional 11 months ever.
Golf is on a different spectrum when it comes to comparing sports. There are no pads, no teams, no goals or baskets. Yes, some athleticism comes into play. But ask 24-year-old 5-foot-9,170 pounds Collin Morikawa, about that, as he won the PGA Championship back in August.
I see golf as an incredibly determined sport, and to be the best on the PGA Tour, you have to be cut from a different cloth. But winning now and in recent months has been skewed in terms of conditions. For example, the Masters was played in November with no fans. Both are firsts.
Different is a way to describe it for lack of a better word. But is there a distinct advantage for these players on Tour that range in age, background, and experience?
“Depends on each individual,” said Ben Everill of PGATour.com.
In the past 10 tournaments, the median age for winners is just over 32. Three of them, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, and Brooks Koepka, are also previous major winners.
Everill, who has covered Golf for a decade and has been on site for a handful of tournaments in the past year, said that the pandemic effect still lingers on the Tour because of minimal fans.
“The first tournament I went back to was Tiger’s first tournament back at the Memorial in July,” said Everill. “Walking around, watching Tiger play without any fans was the most bizarre thing in the universe.”
I was curious how the play would fare and if there is really an advantage of certain players’ conditions. Players that have played hundreds of tournaments and those who are in their early twenties, just breaking onto the Tour. Tough to compare to Tiger Woods, who has crowds follow him since he was a teenager. But for a sport that see’s winners’ range in many different ages, do no crowds help the younger players?
“The players higher up in the world rankings struggle with that more than anyone,” said Everill. “They are used to feeding off the energy. Whether it be the feeling that they are on a roll and the crowd rev’s them up, or even if they can get a feeling like the crowd is against them. Without that, there are periods of flatness.”
Golf is a momentum sport, and every hole brings a different look and challenge to its player. That is one of the beauties of golf; you never hit the same shot twice.
With the luxury of being an outside sport, there hasn’t been much restrictions or harsh quarantines to how these tournaments are played. Covid tests and social distancing are always on the guidelines, but does that weigh on player’s minds? Mind you; everyone is still playing the same course under the same conditions.
“I think the conversation around crowds — particularly benefitting young players — is much to do about nothing,” said James Colgan, Assistant Editor at Golf.com. “Crowds matter don’t get me wrong, and we might have seen different outcomes in big events with normal attendance. But I think to say it benefits one age group over the other is a bit of an overreaction.”
Now, golf on the PGA Tour is entirely different than a Sunday afternoon with some buddies. One hiccup, one shot in the water, could cost you the tournament and millions. Players accustomed to competing for titles seem to still be in the mix on Saturdays and Sundays as of recently. There hasn’t been a first-time winner this year and we have not seen a breakthrough from a younger player that has emerged as a perennial threat.
The eerie silence from limited fans isn’t as much a factor as other sports played in an arena where the noise can surround and echo the athletes. On the course, silence is your friend. It takes a lot for one to focus on a golf ball and be able to hit a drive over 300 yards down a fairway the width of your driveway at home.
Mental toughness and blocking out the outside noise are imperative to succeed on the course. In light of the struggles our world has faced with the virus, there is more on the plate for not only the players, but everyone.
Colgan says he sees the emotional fatigue weighing more on players than the mental strain.
“You’re still playing for a ton of money, and your livelihood is still dependent upon your performance. I can’t imagine it gets more mentally taxing than that,” said Colgan.
With over 30 tournaments still on schedule, including four majors, the opportunities are there for the taking. I don’t see much change coming in tournament protocols. The sea of fans will be back, but it will take time. We will see what players rise to the occasion and simply do what they are paid to do. Play golf at the highest level.