The thought of a fan-less Ryder Cup doesn’t lead to quiet opinions. Even Sunday’s exhibition at Seminole left many on social media speculating if that’s what this type of Ryder Cup would feel like. Ryder Cup Europe captain Padraig Harrington told The Times (UK) a couple weeks prior the event may have to “take one for the team” without fans.
Lee Westwood just told Golf Channel on Wednesday, “if any tournament needs fans, it’s that tournament. Just for me, the fans are essential for the Ryder Cup.”
But what would it actually feel like for the players, caddies if it happened without fans?
“That would be very strange,” Ted Scott, who has caddied for Bubba Watson in four Ryder Cups, told The Caddie Network. “The crazy part would be what’s it going to feel like when you make a putt to win a Ryder Cup point and it’s just eight of you out there? I don’t know if guys can get up for it. These guys are so used to playing with the adrenaline.”
Last week on Golf Channel’s Golf Central, Brooks Koepka made his stance clear.
“I don’t see a point in playing it,” the four-time major winner and two-time Ryder Cupper said.
“I get representing your country is an honor and it’s something that’s so much fun,” he said, “but at the same time, the fans make that event. That’s why we get nervous on the first tee. You hear the chants…”
Koepka felt that Ryder Cup energy for the first time in 2016. His caddie Ricky Elliott remembers it well.
“I could tell he was the most nervous that he’s ever been on the first tee in his life and I just said, ‘tee it as high as you can, hit it as hard as you can’ and he did it,” Elliott said.
Koepka took his first match 5&4 with Brandt Snedeker and went 3-1 for the week in a U.S. win.
Former Ryder Cup Captains’ thoughts
2004 Ryder Cup Europe winning captain Bernhard Langer played in 10 as a player, and knows a fan-less Ryder Cup isn’t ideal. He does, however, believe something historic would happen from it.
“It would be a record TV audience,” Langer told TCN.
“You’re going to miss the chants ‘U-S-A’ and ‘Ole’ and it’s going to be weird,” he added. “It would be better than not having a Ryder Cup I can understand that, because I love watching it when it’s on TV or live. And people would love watching it on TV, guaranteed.”
No fans at a Ryder Cup doesn’t sit well for four-time Ryder Cup Europe captain Tony Jacklin.
“It would be terrible,” Jacklin said, adamantly. “It’s the worst idea that I’ve heard. They need to cancel it and go back to the odd years. The fans, the emotion, the pulling for your team has all become a massive part of it.”
He does agree that if it’s played without fans it would break TV records as Langer suggested.
“That’s probably right, but the atmosphere that’s created as you progress through these matches is something you can’t portray on television without galleries,” Jacklin said. “There’s no other event where the galleries play such a big part. The Ryder Cup stands alone in that regard.”
Ryder Cup caddies’ takes
14-time Ryder Cup caddie Billy Foster is convinced that no fans would be a bad call.
“You can’t have a Ryder Cup without fans, end of story, put it back a year,” Foster said. “We did it with 9/11, we can do it again.”
Foster sees the Ryder Cup’s atmosphere in its own league outside even the majors.
“What makes the Ryder Cup so special is the atmosphere, it makes the Open Championship and the Masters feel like you’re playing a monthly medal game with your friends on a Sunday afternoon at your local club,” Foster said. “The atmosphere of the Ryder Cup is golf with football fans.”
Elliott understands the argument to delay the Ryder Cup, but believes it has a sense of duty to be played.
“I think the world needs something like that whether there’s fans or not, they just need some excitement,” Elliott said. “I just think golf owes it to the world to do it. I know some of the other guys are saying why don’t we wait a year and do a proper one, but a year is a long time away to wait. I think people need it now.”
He also sees how golf can possibly grow from playing the Ryder Cup this year.
“If college football isn’t going, but the Ryder Cup is on you might pick up a whole lot more kids whose dads are watching it and they are sitting in the house. I think it’s a good opportunity for golf to get going and lead the way, and get a lot of people involved with golf.”
Caddie Ian Finnis looped in his first Ryder Cup in 2018 for Tommy Fleetwood.
“If I had a choice as a golf fan I’d just want to watch it,” Finnis said. “Do people at home want to watch Tiger Woods play Tommy Fleetwood in Sunday singles with no fans? Or do they want to watch no golf at all? That’s basically it.”
There are financial and schedule ramifications of course to a delayed Ryder Cup and there’s no simple solution says veteran looper Paul Tesori.
“So many times we forget about the collateral damage of decisions like that, we’d have to push back the Presidents Cup to the following year,” Tesori said. “If we play the Ryder Cup, as far as I’m concerned, you’re going to be in a Ryder Cup, there’s going to be cameras everywhere and you’re going to want to win the Ryder Cup. I know Webb (Simpson) feels this way. Will it be weird? Phenomenally weird. But you’ll still want to win.”
Though the desire to win might be there, Scott thinks this year’s version may not lead to a clear-cut winner.
“My speculation would be it would probably end up being one of those — if it is played — it would be an asterisk thing. And no matter who wins there will probably be some excuses on the other side.”
35-year veteran caddie Mark Fulcher, who’s looped in five Ryder Cups, doesn’t like the idea of a fan-less Ryder Cup, but understands the need for a big event during these uncertain times.
“That’s not for me, personally,” Fulcher said. “Obviously, I understand what a huge event it is. I’ve been very privileged to caddie in five Ryder Cups. It’s hard to see the Ryder Cup without fans, but people are starved for golf, and it’s an occasion.”
One Ryder Cup veteran caddie who’s experienced full the rush of the Ryder Cup’s crowds is Graeme McDowell’s looper Ken Comboy. In 2010, Comboy felt the electricity with McDowell on the 17th hole when the Northern Irishman clinched the winning point for Europe over Hunter Mahan in the anchor match, and the the home European crowds at Celtic Manor rushed the green to celebrate.
Comboy sees a 2020 Ryder Cup with no fans a couple ways.
“Not sure it will go ahead, to be honest, as I feel that it is a step too far to recreate the drama without cheers,” Comboy said. “But having said all that, if sport needs a showcase in these strange times I think it could still have a place on the calendar, but only if we are still in this state of confusion.”
For five-time Ryder Cup player Mark O’Meara, fans are paramount.
“The atmosphere of a Ryder Cup is way different than any golf event that you would go to,” O’Meara said. “If there are no fans, I hope and pray that’s not going to be the case.”
The Ryder Cup is scheduled for September 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.