News & Opinion

Which major will miss fans the most?

Brooks Koepka 2019 Masters
It will be a Masters unlike any other when Brooks Koepka and golf’s other stars visit Augusta National Golf Club in November for a tournament with no spectators.

John Hawkins points to next month’s U.S. Open and the absence of a passionate New York crowd as the biggest blow, but Mike Purkey counters that the Masters, which takes spectating to another level in sports, will feel almost sacrilegious without its patrons

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Which major championship is hurt the most by the absence of spectators on the grounds?

Hawk’s take: Maybe it didn’t affect the PGA Championship all that much last week in San Francisco, although a golf tournament that riveting isn’t quite as reliant on the ambience provided by 25,000 golf fans. It surely will have a greater impact next month at the U.S. Open, which is the major I’d consider the most in need of galleries. Any big event played within 50 miles of New York City becomes a special occasion. Lots of noise. A different level of energy.

The Big Apple also leads the PGA Tour in loudmouth stupidity, but it’s a small price to pay for an atmosphere so rich in passion. There is a certain genteel nature at the Masters, which plays a substantial role in the tournament’s divine character, but several of Augusta National’s most famous holes aren’t surrounded by patrons. You can hear the birds chirping through most of Amen Corner. The reason? Fans aren’t allowed anywhere close to either green.

Meanwhile, civility rules at the British Open, which probably won’t have to deal with the no-spectators factor when it returns next summer. Legend has it that Tom Weiskopf made a hole in-one during a practice round, and upon reaching the green to fetch his ball from the cup, the few bystanders who had witnessed it failed even to clap.

This was back in an era when streaking was still a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, when the sight of a naked man cavorting into the action was enough to cause an uproar. Ah, those Brits. Such a lovely sense of humor.

Purk’s take: Having no spectators – sorry, patrons – or guests at the Masters in November likely won’t harm the financial well-being of Augusta National Golf Club. It has more money than a number of small nations.

However, the absence of people most certainly will hurt the backdrop of the competition. Fans – and their reactions – are an essential part of the fabric of the Masters. From the Par 3 Contest to the back nine on Sunday afternoon, the chorus of the patrons through the cathedral of pines sets the Masters without peer apart from the other majors.

The British Open runs a close second, especially with its massive grandstands around the 18th green that create the ambience of a stadium built for football – American or European. And there’s nothing that compares with the mass of fans that are allowed inside the ropes to follow the final pair down the 18th fairway at an Open.

But the Masters is different, in more ways than we can count here. When a roar from the depths of Amen Corner rumbles up the hill like thunder, you know something big has happened. And veteran Masters watchers can tell the difference between a birdie roar and an eagle roar while also knowing from whence it came.

A silent Masters at the mother church might be reverential. But hallelujahs are not only more appropriate; they are downright holy.

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