How the absence of fans helped Collin Morikawa take down Justin Thomas
Under normal conditions, holing a pivotal putt with the tournament on the line would induce pandemonium outside the ropes. Instead, all that was heard were some muted cheers from the few who got to witness it, and an emphatic “Come on!” from Thomas.
Thomas had one hand on the trophy after the make, needing to dodge one last bullet with Collin Morikawa facing a testy downhill putt to extend the tournament. Unlike his heart-breaking playoff defeat a month earlier, this time Morikawa’s putter kept him alive. The 23-year-old drained the putt to extend the playoff and won the tournament two holes later.
Morikawa has been praised for his maturity on the course during his young career but answering back after such a momentum-swinging putt takes some serious guts. Far more seasoned players than him have buckled when in similar situations. Morikawa did not.
Many have speculated what a fan-less PGA Tour would mean in those crucial moments, when the energy from the crowd is palpable and can turn the tournament on its head. Sunday was our first test case. Although it’s not scientifically quantifiable, the lack of fans no doubt aided Morikawa as he prepared his counter punch.
“It flipped the switch,” Morikawa said in a call with GOLF’s Senior Equipment Editor Andrew Tursky. “I’ve got to make it. If I don’t make, we’re going home again with another second-place playoff loss … We want the fans to be back, but I think having no fans almost helped me in my favor with just not hearing a bunch of fans cheering for minutes on end.”
Tiger Woods is familiar with raucous crowds. No one in the sport draws fans like he does, and he’s been responsible for some of the biggest roars in golf’s history, so you could call him a bit of an expert on the role crowds play in a tournament. During his pre-tournament availability, he was asked how much harder Morikawa’s putt would’ve been under normal conditions.
“A lot more difficult,” he said. “It’s so different not having the energy of the crowd, and for me watching at home as a spectator and one that has played this golf course and have heard the energy that the fans bring to these holes and these situations, not to have that is very different, very stark really.”
The energy of crowds won’t be back anytime soon, either. The PGA Tour announced earlier this week that no fans would be permitted on site for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, which concludes with the Tour Championship on Sept. 7.