Ryder Cup: Playing would be good for golf, with crowds or not
Last Updated: 23/04/20 10:06am
The prosecution case that says a Ryder Cup without fans is a crime against golf is getting stronger by the day and its list of star witnesses - Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, and Jim Furyk – means it’s probably a slam dunk.
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But every allegation of wrongdoing deserves a defence and my plea to the court of public opinion is: "Would it really be so bad?" First and foremost, it's important to remember here we are not talking about September 2001 when no one wanted to play sport and no one wanted to watch it, not even a Ryder Cup.
On the contrary, by the end of this coming summer, the world will be crying out for sport and sport, in turn, will be desperate for a high-profile global event.
No one needs to apologise for this or feel guilty about dreaming of the return of big-time golf, because, far from being disrespectful to the people who are dying and the frontline healthcare workers trying to save them, it is part of a message of hope and recovery.
Of course, it is possible to view the apparent desperation of the PGA of America to proceed with a lucrative Ryder Cup this year as "money before lives" but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, a fan-free Whistling Straits could be seen as a potentially unique emotional experience that goes beyond the normal limits of sport and helps ease our collective anxiety.
McIlroy against spectator-free Ryder Cup
Rory McIlroy has backed the tournament to be postponed until 2021 if fans are unable to attend.
Understandably at the moment, the players are saying it wouldn't be the same without spectators and they're probably less than enamoured by an event that would go into the record books with an asterisk.
But an asterisk is important for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it downgrades an event, as the players seem to think would be the case this time, but, equally, it can indicate special significance of a global nature and that's the opportunity for the 2020 Ryder Cup.
In years to come, players who take part at a deserted Whistling Straits could look back and reflect on a week when they did something for sport and maybe even the world itself.
Yes, it's fair to say their memories in the future will not be of a raucous, frenzied atmosphere and, quite naturally, several players have asked us to imagine a winning putt being holed on the 18th with no fans to join in the celebration.
So okay, let's think about something different, like an intimate re-connection with the purest form of the game in front of a handful of officials, relatives, and friends. An announcement on the first tee where the applause is led by the opponents. Quiet, intense matches, where good shots receive all-round approval and bad ones no worse than groans.
Probably sounds a bit tame and pedestrian to most viewers of modern sport but, then again, that relative solemnity could be appropriate as we emerge from these dark days. Let's face it anyway, lack of atmosphere is going to be a problem every sport will have to deal with in the coming months but golf is better equipped than most.
Stadium sports have nothing more to offer than empty seats and the echo of coaches shouting at their players.Golf, on the other hand, has a genuine landscape that changes with the weather or the hour of the day and Whistling Straits, in particular, is a backdrop fit for any occasion.
If, with these points, I've won over any members of the jury, I suppose I risk losing them now by making a suggestion that could be deemed to plumb the depths of gimmickry, I'm not even talking about virtual fans or other innovations the PGA of America are discussing.
With no requirement for grandstands or infrastructure at Whistling Straits, I believe it would be feasible to build floodlights around the last five holes.
They could push back the tee times, nudge the matches into the early hours of darkness, and, perhaps, just perhaps, create an atmosphere at the end of each day similar to what we saw in the dramatic finish at last year's Turkish Airlines Open.
Yes, there were fans still in attendance on that occasion but not in huge numbers, and it wasn't their presence that created the dramatic television pictures and tension as Tyrell Hatton eventually triumphed in a six-man play-off. In that kind of setting, I can easily envisage a special atmosphere when Ian Poulter holes the winning putt in front of his cheering teammates on Sunday.
Of course, my crazy floodlights or not, I realise none of this would be the Ryder Cup we know and love, but, remember, this is an event that has evolved and adapted over many years. In the interests of sport and the morale of its fans, it may just have to adjust to something different again this time around.
If playing without fans is a crime against golf, my friend James Corrigan at the Daily Telegraph emerged as a worthy Chief Prosecutor when he described it as "a ridiculous, wretched concept". Okay Jamie, in the best traditions of the trade: "See you in court."