Players feeling major atmosphere at TPC Harding Park despite fan-less event
The 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park will be unlike any in history.
The first major of the COVID-19 era will see the world’s best ascend on the Bay Area with no fans in sight. The thousands of spectators who normally would line the galleries will be watching from the comfort of their own home instead of being mere feet away from Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka.
This will be the ninth PGA Tour event without fans since the restart from quarantine. Top players like Rory McIlroy have opined about how different it feels to be teeing off without throngs of supporters locked in on their every swing.
But the lack of fans at TPC Harding Park hasn’t changed the feel of the week for two of the game’s best players. Woods and Koepka arrived in the Bay Area this week fully locked into major mode and ready to contend for the Wanamaker Trophy.
“I mean, it's pretty obvious it's a major when you pull in,” Koepka said Tuesday when asked if the tournament will feel different without fans. “Yeah, I don't know how else to answer that. It's pretty obvious it's a major. It's a big boy golf course. Tough place, tough setup. I mean, I know it, so that's all that matters.”
Koepka, fresh off a tie for second place at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind last week, is looking to become the first player to win three straight PGA Championships since Walter Hagen won four straight titles from 1924-27.
The four-time major champion has been battling a troublesome left knee since he received stem-cell treatment in the fall. But after leading the field in strokes gained: approach last week, Koepka likes where his game is at heading into the PGA.
“I feel very confident in myself,” Koepka said when asked if he thought he was the player to beat this week. “I don't know -- I think when you start saying it like that, I think you're putting expectations. I don't put any expectations on myself. Just go out and go play golf exactly like I know how, and if I do that, then yeah, I probably should win.”
Woods has only teed it up one time during the restart without fans, finishing in a tie for 40th at the Memorial Tournament. The 15-time major champion admitted it was a different feel not playing in front of packed galleries, but that won’t lessen the intensity this week.
“Those four days at Muirfield was a bit different,” Woods said Tuesday. “It reminded me of sometimes on the weekend, you'd tee off Saturday morning and you'd just barely make the cut and you're first off and there's no one out there, but generally by the time you make the back nine, there's thousands of people out there on the golf course waiting for the leaders to tee off.
“But that never happened. So that's the new world we live in. We just have to get used to it. As far as the focus part of it, I haven't had a problem with that. Those four rounds, I was pretty into it. It's different than most of the times when you go from green-to-tee, people yelling or trying to touch you. That part is different. As far as energy while I'm competing and playing, no, that’s the same. I'm pretty intense when I play and pretty into what I'm doing.”
Woods will tee off with McIlroy and world No. 1 Justin Thomas at 8:33 a.m. PT on Thursday and 1:58 p.m. PT on Friday.
Koepka will start his title defense grouped with 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry, going off at 8:11 a.m. PT on Thursday and 1:36 p.m. PT on Friday.