Yesterday was pleasant—it cooled down a bit in Durham, so I got to sit on my outdoor porch, slowly write two pieces for Digest, and follow the action at Colonial while writing a low-effort tweet or two. I have a few thoughts.

Golf doesn’t need a crowd

When I started watching the Bundesliga a few weeks ago, Fox Sports hadn’t yet begun to pipe in fake crowd noise. It was jarring, and kinda terrible, and the way the sound reverberated around the stadium managed to diminish the drama at a time when it wasn’t easy to care about sports in the first place. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who felt it, because they remedied the situation within two weeks. Phony or manufactured as it might be, we needed the noise of the people, and it’s no accident that the EPL and NBA are setting up “fake” audio of their own.

Golf, on the other hand, absolutely does not need a crowd to be enjoyable. The Ryder Cup still will, but regular PGA Tour events are just fine on an otherwise empty course. Would it be nice to hear a roar or two? Sure. But the underlying mood of a typical weekend tournament is tranquil/serene/calm, and if anything the lack of a gallery just heightens the dominant emotion. Compared to other sports that have returned, it loses nothing.

Everybody was who we thought they were

This was the sad part, to some degree, particularly with Jordan Spieth. We’ve spent the better part of three years wondering when he’s going to be “back,” but it’s not really a slump in the traditional sense. Here’s what I wrote about him a year ago:

So what’s left to find, before he can win again? If you ask Spieth, it’s consistency, and it’s true that he’s had rocky stretches in otherwise strong tournaments. But looking at the numbers, the inconsistency seems to strike overwhelmingly on weekends, and especially when he’s in contention.

And what happened at Colonial? 65-65-68-71 happened. Strange as it seems, this drought is more about nerves or some mental block than it is about losing his swing or his touch or whatever. I’m glad he was back near the top of the leaderboard, but I don’t believe (at least not yet) that anything fundamental has changed.

Harold Varner III is who we thought he was: somebody that struggles significantly under pressure. Sunday proved the point, as he followed up three straight rounds of 66 with a 73 that killed any chance he had to win. His most famous collapse came last year in the PGA Championship, when he made the final group on the final day with Koepka, but shot an 81 to fall all the way to 36th.

Collin Morikawa is one of the most polished human beings I’ve ever met (read my feature about him here), but at the end he, too, looked like he was being eaten alive by the pressure. He missed a four-footer on 18 that would have won him the tournament, and he was mostly a disaster on the playoff hole, exceptional chip aside. This was a brutal, brutal ending:

I have to say, it was probably nice for Morikawa that there were no fans. It’s bad enough to miss a putt like that, but at least he wasn’t serenaded by thousands of people groaning in unison.

Berger, too, lived up to his reputation as a gamer, even though I think he was insane to go so hard at the pin on the playoff hole after Morikawa botched his drive. Nevertheless, it was a tough performance amid a jam-packed leaderboard, and a great win for a guy who has been absentee for the last little while. I thought it was particularly smart of him to finish off his putt on the last hole rather than marking and waiting for Morikawa to go. It might not have made much of a difference, but getting in for par and turning your opponent’s putt into do-or-die adds that little bit of pressure, and I think Berger understood that.

This is the kind of player Stricker should be looking at for the Ryder Cup—consistent, tough, and a little mean. American captains seem to make the worst picks imaginable every two years, and this would be a good time to start the remedy.

Golf announcers remain hilarious

I can’t tell you how many times yesterday I heard the announcers lamenting the “bad luck” that was apparently rampant throughout the course. I don’t think a single player ever hit a bad shot…it was just the cursed breaks that sent their balls past the hole, into the sand, into the rough. I’m not complaining about this; I look at it as a funny quirk of the sport, where tough analysis isn’t on the menu unless your name is Johnny Miller. At times, they go so far as to say things like, “oh no, he hit a perfect putt” when the ball lips out. No he didn’t! A perfect putt would have gone in!

It reached its absurd apex with Berger’s approach on the playoff hole, which was far too aggressive and never had a chance to do anything but skip off the green and into the rough. To the announcers, though, it was a terrific shot that deserved more. In my next life, I want that kind of optimism.

More to Come

I’ll be talking with Kevin Robbins, who covered the Colonial for Digest, sometime tonight for a podcast that will run tomorrow. I’ll be fascinated to hear what it was like to actually cover it, whether the players were social distancing, if media could get any access, and etc. Stay tuned for that.

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