2020 PGA Championship: Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth preparing for ‘different’ major atmosphere

Tiger Woods has won 15 major championships throughout his career, and all 15 were celebrated by shrieking spectators as he walked in the final putt on hole No. 72. Some of the most iconic moments of his career include a roaring gallery in the background as he fist-pumped in Sunday red. But as he gears up for the first major championship of the season amid a pandemic, he knows the circumstances surrounding the PGA Championship this week at TPC Harding Park — win or not — will be vastly different.

“I don’t know if anyone in our generation has ever played without fans in a major championship,” Woods said on Tuesday. “It’s going to be very different. But it’s still a major championship. It’s still the best players in the world. We all understand that going into it, so there’s going to be plenty of energy from the competitive side.”

Since golf’s return, players have had to adjust to the missing component of energy and excitement galleries typically bring. They’ve had to channel their own enthusiasm as opposed to getting a shot of adrenaline from a crowd roar. In the context of 2020, it’s an adjustment that falls into the category of First World problems — but it doesn’t make it any less unusual.

“In the times that we have right now with no fans, it’s going to be odd playing a major championship without fans,” said Jordan Spieth, who finished second at the PGA Championship in 2015. “Nobody wanted this, but we’d rather be playing it than not. I think overall, if anything, it just brings an extra comfort level to everybody that you’re normally trying to get over as you get going into a major championship.”

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The prevailing feeling among golf’s biggest names in the field this week is that a major championship, fans or no fans, pandemic or no pandemic, is still a major championship. There’s no special setup required. The stakes are high as ever.

“You know, major championship weeks you don’t need anything special or spectators to make us aware or make it known that it’s a major championship, right?” said Jon Rahm, who enters the week No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings behind Justin Thomas. “It just feels like it. You’re aware of it. It’s as simple as that.”

Without fans, there is no applause. No oohs and ahhs, either, which can act as a barometer for how other golfers on the course are faring. Instead, the atmosphere this week will be stripped of the typical buzz that goes hand in hand with that of a normal major championship. The same silence that accompanies tee times on No. 1 Thursday will follow it into Sunday as the race for the first major championship of 2020 heats up.

“As far as the energy outside the ropes, that is an unknown,” Woods said. “Hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can feel what it feels like to have no fans and also coming down the stretch with a chance to win.”

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