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Tour Confidential: Would you prefer fan-less majors in 2020 or no majors at all?

March 23, 2020

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss the future of major championship golf in 2020, and pros and cons of a fall Masters, the best golf movies of all time and more.

1. No one can predict what the future holds, but if pro golf has the opportunity to resume in 2020 but without fans, would you want the majors and Ryder Cup conducted in such fashion? Or would you prefer to see this year’s majors scrapped entirely and start looking ahead to 2021?

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): I want pro golf as quickly as possible. (February Sean is shuddering at that admission.) Living here in New York, things have officially gotten very weird and I know people in similar scenarios could use something real to look forward to. It would be different to see those events played without fans but it would be nice to have something instead of nothing.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): What? No jugheads yelling baba-booey? Where’s the joy in that? I’d be up for a fan-free version of three of the five: the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the British Open. I’d rather wait on the Masters and the Ryder Cup, as they could be replicated in 2021. That’s unlikely for the others. I was speaking yesterday with someone involved with the PGA Championship. He said that if the event doesn’t get played at TPC Harding Park this year, that ship has sailed — San Francisco’s muni misses its chance. I’m not sure if the same would apply to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, but I assume so. As for the British Open? The 150th anniversary of that event is set for St. Andrews next year. No way they bump the calendar back to give Royal St. George’s its turn. Obviously, that’s not the case with Augusta, and I’d rather wait til spring and watch the real thing, not some off-brand autumn version. And the Ryder Cup without fans wouldn’t be the Ryder Cup.

Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): I’m not a medical expert and of course defer to those who are, but it seems a touch too early to make a call about the Ryder Cup. That said, a Ryder Cup without fans wouldn’t be a Ryder Cup worth having. I’m already on record saying they should push back all the majors to 2021, and if the choices are a 2020 Ryder Cup with no fans or a 2021 one with them, the Ryder Cup should join them. It wouldn’t even be that unprecedented. The 2001 Ryder Cup was played in 2002, lest not forget, out of respect for 9/11.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): I’m on board for anything we can squeeze in this year. Not having fans would change the feeling but we all need something to watch, to write about and, most importantly, something to cheer for, so bring it on.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I’m with Alan. Something is better than nothing. We are adaptable creatures.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): I’ll take any of these tournaments with or without fans, and as soon as we can (responsibly!) get them. The Masters should have fans, though. I’d wait extra for that.

Tiger Woods celebrates his 2019 Masters title.
Tiger Woods celebrates his 2019 Masters title.
Getty Images

2. The golf world is buzzing about the possibility of an October Masters. What would be the pros and cons of holding golf’s annual rite of spring in the fall?

Zak: Right now, the only pro I care about is the one I mentioned above: some golf is better than no golf. It goes without saying that we’re following the assumption of proper health standards here, and if that’s the case it’d be a great treat to see that course played during a different season.

Sens: Pros: It would be the Masters. Cons: Except not really.

Kerr-Dineen: I’m sure there are larger business interests behind the scenes dictating this October Masters movement, but I’m not really into it. I mean look, I’m with Sean. I miss pro golf. I miss normalcy. I will take whatever I can get with a royal smile on my face. But I’d rather Augusta National host some kind of joint event (which there is precedent for, considering the course once wanted to host the Olympics), rather than an official “Masters” in October, which is so synonymous with springtime.

Shipnuck: It would be awesome to see Augusta National with the fall foliage. Some amateur agronomists out there say in the fall the course wouldn’t be quite as firm and fast as we all like but that’s the case at many Masters after it rains.

Bamberger: We’re about due for some good luck. Yes to the fall Masters, and if the course is firm and fast that would be a nice bonus.

Dethier: Now that I’ve been home in Massachusetts for a week, I feel comfortable saying that a fall Masters would be wicked fun! It’s not like we’re giving up next year’s Masters in the process — there are really no cons whatsoever. If the choice is between no Masters and a fall Masters, I know where I’m going.

It's hard to imagine the Games won't be postponed. The most important development there is it gives Tiger time to get his body and game right so he can make a big push to Tokyo. His presence can be a game-changer.

3. The Official World Golf Ranking and the Rolex Rankings have halted amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The OWGR, which shapes the Olympic rankings and, eventually, the roster, runs on a two-year cycle with older results diminishing in value as the calendar moves along. This news means golf’s lineups for the 2020 Tokyo Games, if they still happen, is getting closer to being finalized (qualifying ends in June). Which players are the winners and losers due to the rankings pause?

Zak: Well, the qualifying is tightest between Americans Nos. 3, 4 and 5. That’s Patrick Reed, Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson. I don’t really pity any of them in their Olympic hopes. Rather I pity the next rung of guys, maybe Nos. 20-30 in the OWGR, whose opportunities were just cut in half. Of course, the IOC might just make this all moot with a postponement of the Games.

Sens: With the Olympics in jeopardy, my sympathy goes out more to players from other countries who aren’t earning a living on any major tours and might become one of those Cinderella stories that make the Games so great.

Kerr-Dineen: World No. 21 Tyrrell Hatton is a perfect example of this. Hatton was putting together a career year before the season paused. He could make a serious case that he was trending to overtake World No. 14 Justin Rose to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. But now, because of circumstances so unusual and outside of everybody’s control, he almost certainly won’t. If the Olympics still goes ahead, the selection process will end up being unfair on some. There’s no way around it, and it’s terribly unfortunate. But we’re just all going to have to be OK with it.

Shipnuck: It’s hard to imagine the Games won’t be postponed. The most important development there is it gives Tiger time to get his body and game right so he can make a big push to Tokyo. His presence can be a game-changer for Olympic golf and I’m rooting hard for him to make it.

Bamberger: I agree with Alan. I know the logistics are incredibly complex, but I can see the Summer Games in the summer of 2021, but not 2020.

Dethier: If, say, our next event is the Olympics, there’s no question Hatton would be the biggest loser. One spot outside the top 20, which would guarantee him passage?! Brutal. Biggest winner would be Cantlay, who is clinging to a .02 (read: small) lead over Webb Simpson for the final American spot. The least affected player would be Dustin Johnson.

4. Courses around the U.S. — at least those that are still open — have been practicing new and hygienic ways for golfers to play the sport they love while also being conscious of the coronavirus. What’s the smartest idea you’ve seen, and have you deemed any of these ideas worth keeping around long-term?

Zak: The smartest (and most reasonable) seems to be inserting some kind of cylinder into the cup to keep players from needing to grab the flag repeatedly, or dig down into the hole. I think it’d also be reasonable to just remove the flags altogether. Personally, I’d be open to bunker rakes being removed from the game entirely. This isn’t a necessary move but the lucky few who get to play Pine Valley understand that any bunker or waste area can be cured by the bottom of your shoes and some wind.

Sens: On the health front, I dig the pushed-up cup, which the USGA is allowing as a local rule during the current crisis. But in the long term, I like the idea of every player putting out to completion in turn. Good for keeping social distance, but also for keeping up the pace of play.

Kerr-Dineen: I’m with Sens. The pushed-up cup — or sometimes outright inverted cup — is a simple, cost-free and genius solution to the problem. Expect hole-in-one claims to spike over the next few weeks, though…

Shipnuck: All of the above are good. And eliminating carts! For overall health reasons it’s hard to beat walking 5-7 miles with 25 pounds on your back.

Bamberger: All well said. And if you really can cut back on cart golf, the people will want shorter courses and carry fewer clubs.

Dethier: I love the cash box — those should stay. Too many courses won’t let you go off once the shop closes. Off hours? Slip a tenner in the box and go play, guilt-free.

5. Our Dylan Dethier cured his golf bug by building his own backyard golf hole. What indoor or backyard tip or game can you offer our readers that will help keep their game sharp?

Zak: Plunge some wooden sticks into the ground throughout your backyard. Chip to them with the goal of your ball connecting with said wood. Create a routing, with everything as a par-2. Challenge whoever is in the house with you. Enjoy the fresh air. My apartment is getting really old and I’m jealous.

Sens: Get yourself an Orange Whip or a Speed Stik. If you’ve got high enough ceilings, you can even swing them inside to keep yourself limber and your world-beating fundamentals in tune.

Kerr-Dineen: This is the perfect at-home drill and helps solve a problem that plagues countless desk-dwelling golfers: Get into golf posture with your butt up against the back of a chair, and practice making swings, never allowing yourself to lift off the chair.

Shipnuck: Trying to flop balls off my carpet onto my bed is really helping my chipping game.

Bamberger: This is a creative staff! I find if I have my feet in the driveway but make the swings over grass I can really feel my footwork, which I am trying to improve, along with my grip and my takeaway. There’s a lot to be said for practicing without a ball.

Dethier: Hitting chip shots off any type of carpet should improve your feel and contact — I noticed this after a few weeks of chipping on our firm office floors. When I finally got out to real grass, there was much more margin for error! Might not want to use real balls in the house, though.

6. If you are looking for some of the best golf movies you can stream at home, our recent list has you covered. In your mind, what’s the best golf movie ever made? And what’s the most overrated?

Zak: Tin Cup is the best because it’s the most realistic. It really seems to understand the game in a serious way, while most of the others that are beloved are most strictly comedies. As for overrated, I guess Happy Gilmore is probably atop that list. I love the movie for its frivolity, but it’s so damn unrealistic that it’s probably a bit overrated as a golf product.

Sens: Sorry, but golf movies stink. [Ducks and braces for social media blowback.] At least, I’ve never seen a very good one. Tin Cup is bearable, if you’re stuck on an airplane or in virus quarantine. Happy Gilmore has about one Saturday Night Live skit’s worth of humor. There are some glacially paced golf movies set in gauzy Robert Redford-esque lighting that will put you to sleep in about 10 minutes, or make you queasy from the schmaltz (see: The Legend of Bagger Vance). And a few old-timey ones, like Pat and Mike, that are watchable if you’re into Hollywood nostalgia. Caddyshack is the best of the bunch, but it’s not really a golf movie. It’s a movie about social class (and getting stoned and struck by lightning). As grandma used to say, “Do yourself a favor and read a book.”

Kerr-Dineen: Caddyshack is so iconic, and Rodney Dangerfield is such a legend. Tin Cup is brilliant, too, regardless of what Sens says. Honorable mention for Legend of Bagger Vance, because it’s filled with so much soul. But what am I re-watching now that I have the chance? The R&A’s Chronicles of an Open Champion series.

Shipnuck: Tin Cup is better than that, Sens. The writing is really sharp and the Tour player cameos are a hoot. If no one thinks the others are any good can they really be overrated?

Sens: Like I said, good for quarantine, or the economy cabin.

Bamberger: I am not devoted to Caddyshack as others are, but its staying power proves that it must have some deep mysterious thing going on. A hundred million Rodney fans can’t be wrong.

Dethier: Caddyshack is pretty funny! And Tin Cup is way more subtle than it gets credit for. But if you’re looking for a trip to an on-screen country club, check out Red Oaks on Amazon Prime. There’s not that much golf, but it takes the spirit of an 80s comedy and infuses some earnestness, and the combo is really fun. Red Oaks gets into all kinds of clever interpersonal and class dynamics with which all golfers are familiar. You could waste your time in many worse ways.

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