Why the absence of fans at the PGA Championship presents unique distractions

jon rahm putting at 2020 pga championship

Jon Rahm on the fan-less 15th green during the first round of the 102nd PGA Championship.

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There has much been talk this week about the absence of fans at the 102nd PGA Championship. It’s not a new story per se. The Tour has been sans spectators for nearly two months, but this is the first roar-less major. Strange times.  

What effect does that have on the players? Depends on whom you ask. Rory McIlroy says that without the swelling galleries he’s having a hard time getting amped. Bryson DeChambeau characterized the muted atmosphere as a “downer.” Englishman Paul Casey said he actually missed getting heckled. “Hey, if I deserve to be booed, I get booed,” he said. “And if I deserve to be cheered, I usually get one. It’s all good.”

All makes sense. But there’s also a counterintuitive consequence of this fan-free affair. In one unexpected way, it’s actually louder out there, or at least more distracting for players who are accustomed to playing in front of tens of thousands. That’s according to world No. 2 Jon Rahm.    

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“People don’t realize how much you can hear things,” he said Thursday at TPC Harding Park after an opening even-par 70. “You might be putting or hitting a shot, and if somebody nearby is hitting a tee shot or even landing into a green close to you, you can hear that. You’re so aware. It’s just so loud.”

Rahm wasn’t finished.

“Noise travels so far here, especially if you’re downwind. Every little thing, you’re going to be able to hear, so you just need to be just a little bit extra focused or aware that somebody is hitting a shot. It’s those little things that normally we don’t hear.”

Rahm cited the tee at the par-4 9th. The Spaniard said if you’re hitting a drive from there, you can hear balls thumping into the 8th green or splashing into the bunkers surrounding the green. “There’s a couple other holes out there where you are close enough to where you can hear that noise,” he said. “It’s just golf.” Rahm added that during normal times the murmuring of fans drowns out all those golfy noises.

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No doubt that sound of relative silence will only amplify as the week progresses, culminating on Sunday evening, when we’ll witness a scene unlike any other in televised major-championship history: a major champion fist-pumping, clutching his head in disbelief or thrusting his arms skyward to a soundtrack of only a smattering of applause.

“When it comes to those moments, I had a pretty good moment myself at Memorial on the 16th hole,” said Rahm, speaking of his victorious Sunday at Muirfield Village three weeks ago. “It almost feels anticlimactic, right, like you expect an explosion and just going crazy, and it just feels a little weird to be the one yelling because nobody else is.”

Come Sunday at Harding Park, it will feel weirder still.  

Alan Bastable

Golf.com

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.