Forget about whether a tree falling at Congressional Country Club makes a sound if nobody is around to hear it. There was another musing to ponder after violent thunderstorms battered the metro area Friday night, leading tournament officials to ban spectators and volunteers Saturday morning:
If a golfer plays the AT&T National and there’s nobody around to watch him, does it affect his game?
I suspect the answer to both questions is “yes.” But there’s no telling exactly how, or to what extent, the absence of galleries factors into performance. The only certainty is you can’t shake the weirdness when a course hosting Tiger Woods‘ tournament is a virtual ghost town.
“In some ways it was nice and in some ways it was not nice,” said Billy Hurley III, who’s tied for fifth place after shooting the day’s best round, 5 under. “It was a different experience.”
That was especially true for the early pairings. Brian Harman played in the first group off tee No. 1, six hours after the tournament originally was scheduled to start. “It was kind of eerie,” he said. “You look up into the grandstands and there’s no one.”
There were about two dozen folks in the tee area — half of them scorers waiting for later groups — when Harman and his mates began their round. George McNeill was just about to hit when he suddenly backed away, distracted by the rumbling of a nearby cart hauling away tree limbs.
The day reminded everyone that little things can sound awfully loud when it’s really quiet.
Those chirping birds might have been heard with a throng of patrons on the grounds, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as noticeable. Whirring chainsaws aren’t normally associated with PGA Tour events, but their buzz was unmistakable and unavoidable. And you couldn’t miss the cart caravans snaking through the course, brimming with evidence of storm damage.
“You could see off to the sides of fairways there were trees that were chopped down and everything blown over,” said amateur sensation Beau Hossler. “We were lucky to get out there and play. … It would’ve been nice to have people to bounce it off if you hit it in the trees sometimes, or maybe some trampled grass off the fairways.”
Hossler didn’t have that, but he did have his mom, stepdad, sister and a cousin following his group, making for one of the largest galleries. For golfers such as him and many others, small gatherings are the norm, so Saturday’s circumstances weren’t much different in that regard.
But it affected the overall field, forced it to do without the energy from patrons all over the course, even if they weren’t following most groups. Crowds parked at individual holes always have much to offer the golfers passing through.
“It was eerie and peaceful but just not as fun,” said Jim Furyk. “It’s a lot more fun when the fans are out there and you hit a good shot. You hear cheers and hear roars from around the course. [Saturday] was awkward more than anything else. It was just so quiet. Usually there’s at least a buzz.”
A resurgent Woods would’ve generated quite the commotion as he shot 4 under to move into a tie for second place. His round included an incredible chip for a birdie at No. 6, the type of shot that normally sends a sound wave reverberating throughout the course.
Bo Van Pelt, who was playing with Woods and also finished tied for second at 6 under, “felt like I got cheated.
“Because the normal crowd would have got really loud,” he said. “So I’m disappointed I didn’t get to hear that cheer when he made that flop shot. Because it’s fun; you take energy from that.”
Of course, the field wasn’t alone in missing energy, as more than 1 million homes in the D.C. area were without power. That added to the surreal sense. The tournament proceeded despite an ongoing emergency, which probably would’ve affected attendance anyway.
Woods said it reminded him of playing when thunderstorms roll through in the summer, and the course is cleared before the golfers eventually go back out and finish alone. The event was still televised, for those who had electricity or went elsewhere to watch. But the late start time forced the local CBS station to bail on coverage before play was complete.
Officials got the round in, though, and everyone was safe. But no wants to experience something like this again.
Because if fans can’t watch a PGA Tour tournament, does it really exist?