“The Ryder Cup without the supporters is not the Ryder Cup”. This is what is being echoed around the golf world as the prestigious sporting event is scheduled to go ahead at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, USA, in September 2020 behind closed doors.
Whilst three of the four major tournaments in the PGA Tour this year have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the British Open Championship cancelled, there is uncertainty whether Europe’s attempt to retain the Ryder Cup will take place this year or in 2021.
It is difficult to separate this event from the atmosphere it delivers - it is not just the golf that millions of viewers tune in to watch. However, considerations must be made by the PGA Tour of the USA and of Europe, including how to satisfy television contracts and stakeholders which are essential for the financial stability of this event.
Firstly, the financial impact must be considered. Financial difficulty has already hit primary stakeholders in Ryder Cup partnerships due to the cancellation and postponement of many tournaments this year, with lingering uncertainty regarding next year’s restart. In particular, the European tour has furloughed nearly half of their staff so far this year due to the cancellations of 12 tournaments and a WGC event. With limited income, a 12-month delay to this year’s event would cause the rescheduling of the 2022 Ryder Cup in Italy, which could cause an economic meltdown in the sport.
For this reason, European captain Padraig Harrington has admitted that the Ryder Cup may have to “take one for the team” and play behind closed doors in the best interest of the sport. He recognises that nobody would choose to play the Ryder Cup without fans, but this is not an ideal scenario and many avenues must be considered.
It also must be considered how going ahead with the Ryder Cup this year could produce a tremendous amount of joy and entertainment for millions of viewers at home across the globe. In times of monotony and unrest, having the chance to witness a major sporting event on television would lift the mood of many, experiencing emotions not felt in many months.
On the other hand, a 12-month delay would not be an unprecedented scenario, as the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed in the wake of the 9/11 attack. This would mean that future Ryder Cup tournaments would not take place in the same year as the two biggest global sporting events - the football World Cup and the Olympics. This would provide an opportunity for further exposure and spotlight on this esteemed event, and the sport itself.
There is an enormous sense of tribalism witnessed at the Ryder Cup, unique in the sport. Without the fans, it would be hard to imagine a similar sense of tension, excitement or enthusiasm from the first tee shot to the last putt.
Imagine some of the greatest moments in Ryder Cup history without fans. In my experience, the Miracle at Medinah in 2012 produced one of the most exciting days of golf I have ever witnessed. However, would this have been as exciting without the roar of the crowds when Justin Rose sunk his putt to beat Phil Mickelson, or when Martin Kaymer edged past Steve Stricker?
More recently, the 2016 Ryder Cup saw Rory McIlroy battle with Patrick Reed on the final day at Hazeltine, with a memorable rapport with the unruly spectators. Extraordinary levels of cheering and jeering were present throughout the full 18 holes, with fist-pumps, finger-wags and pure emotion on display by the players and the fans. In most senses, this encapsulated what the Ryder Cup is all about.
Despite a handful of supporters perhaps overstepping the line towards McIlroy, he is opposed to going ahead with the tournament this year, telling the BBC that “it wouldn’t be a great spectacle, there’d be no atmosphere”.
A growing number of golfers have added their discontent with the proposed go-ahead, including John Rahm who told Sky Sports “I don’t think it’s worth playing if you don’t have spectators”, adding “we are not playing for ourselves, we are playing for Europe and we are playing for the United States”. Rahm also offered his assurance to the US team, stating “it wouldn’t be fair on the US team either, to be playing at home without the home support”.
The contribution of the fans is underlying in the tradition of the Ryder Cup, so as things stand, I think a 12-month delay is a decision which should be made. It is a difficult judgment to make, however from my perspective, hosting the Ryder Cup without fans would be an imitation of the real event.
Circumstances could change by September regarding the ongoing pandemic; therefore, it would be hasty to rule out either scenario at this current time.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk