Major season for men’s golf generally starts in April with the Masters.
This year, in the strangest year most people can remember for almost every aspect of life, major season starts in August. And instead of the Masters, the first event of the year is the PGA Championship, to be played this week in San Francisco.
But just as some fans are questioning whether the Major League Baseball season is legitimate with just a 60-game schedule and no fans, just as some fans are questioning an NBA season’s legitimacy because the break for COVID-19 was so long and now there is no home-court advantage in the playoffs, some are questioning if golf’s major championships in 2020 are, well, really major championships.
There are some good points to be made on both side of that argument. For instance, the Masters has been rescheduled for November this year, which means things will be far different in Augusta, Ga., than the event’s traditional April dates. The weather will be different, the course conditions will be different, and the players won’t have the traditional build-up to the event. And will the Masters be the Masters without Sunday afternoon roars from the patrons, assuming that the patrons might not be allowed on the course?
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The same is true about the U.S. Open set for September at Winged Foot outside of New York City. The lack of fans at the national championship was only confirmed in the last few days. Anyone familiar with the Opens that have been played in the area around New York City at courses like Shinnecock Hills and Bethpage Black know that the New York crowds are among the most raucous in the sport, and that the crowds have their favorites like Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.
And let’s not forget that the Open filled its field in a completely different way in 2020. With no local or section qualifying, nearly half of the 156-player field had to be added into the field by other categories. So is it really the Open with no open qualifying?
Of all of the majors being played in 2020 – the British Open was canceled for the year and will return in 2021 – the PGA Championship probably feels the most normal. After all, for years the championship was played in August, and it will feature pretty much the usual field for the event.
So no, the major championships won’t quite be the same in 2020 as they have been in previous years and hopefully will be in years to come. But don’t let that make the majors less than legitimate in your mind. Because there are important elements to each event that still lend themselves to being majors.
Consider that while Augusta National might not look quite the same as it does in April, a November Masters is still played on the very course where Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer won their Masters. The Augusta National course is an integral part of the Masters.
The U.S. Open is still being played at an Open-worthy course at Winged Foot. Bobby Jones, Billy Casper and Hale Irwin won Open titles there, so it should be good enough for whoever wins the title this year.
As for this week’s PGA Championship, it is still being run by the PGA of America, it is being played at a course (TPC Harding Park) that has hosted big events and it will have one of the strongest fields in 2020. That all says major championship, even if there will be no fans on the grounds to root the players on.
We are living in extraordinary times, and sports certainly have taken their share of blows from the pandemic. So many events have been canceled and postponed, and there will likely be more cancellations and postponements in the coming weeks.
But rather than question the legitimacy of events that are being held, even in altered states, let’s just be happy that we are getting to see some sports. TPC Harding Park will be a strong test for the PGA Championship. Winged Foot is a fabled old course for the U.S. Open, and who knows, maybe Augusta National will still find a way to have some fans on the course at the Masters.
We can only watch and hope.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at [email protected]_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.