Golfweek’s Steve DiMeglio previews the field this week for the PGA Championship, the first major of the year, at TPC Harding Park.
On a list of big surprises in sports these days, news that the ANA Inspiration will be played in Rancho Mirage without spectators ranks pretty low.
The LPGA major at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage was fighting a losing battle over having fans on the course in September. When the spike in the coronavirus hit in the last month, it was pretty obvious that having a large number of spectators walking the fairways or filling grandstands just didn’t make sense in a pandemic world.
Just getting the tournament played was going to be a victory, and the team at the ANA Inspiration, working with Riverside County authorities, managed to get the final approval to play.
Make no mistake, though, the decision about having fans or not was not really made by the tournament organizers or the LPGA. It was about rules and orders from the state and the county that killed off the idea of spectators.
More: Golf majors will be different in 2020, but they are majors just the same
More: No spectators on the course, but ANA Inspiration will be played in September
“Our choice, if it was possible, we would certainly not be without our fans,” said Michele Mair, vice president of golf communications for International Management Group, operators of the ANA Inspiration.
But with the decision now made to have no spectators, tournament officials can turn to what the 2020 ANA Inspiration will look like. And for that, all they have to do is turn on their television this weekend and see what is happening at the PGA Championship in San Francisco this weekend.
The PGA is the first major championship of the year for either the men’s or women’s tours. Certainly two months ago, the chances of the PGA of America bringing the championship to California seemed slim. The state was grappling with the virus and was basically closed. Professional golf hadn’t really even opened up again, and no one knew for sure what the sport’s return would look like.
A view of a Callaway golf bag is seen during the first round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 06, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)
Two months later, the PGA has been a success, if not a roaring one since there is no one to roar on the course. It is strange to hear Tiger Woods announced on the first hole with no cheers from the crowd, or see Phil Mickelson chip in for an eagle to nothing but silence.
Safe and cautious golf event
But the key to the PGA this weekend was to get the tournament played and have it played in a safe manner. It looks like the event will get through four days with no positive tests for COVID-19, and that should be the goal of any tournament between now and at least the end of the year.
And while it doesn’t sound like a major championship, the PGA still feels like a major. The field is strong, even with a few early week withdrawals. The TPC Harding Park course is playing tough like a major course should, and the leader board has a nice mix of great players, solid contenders and surprising names.
In other words, it is playing like a major.
That’s the goal the ANA Inspiration should reach for. While it is impossible for everything to be like a normal year, it should be the goal to make everything seem as normal as possible. For the ANA, that means doing the signage that will tell everyone watching at home that it is an LPGA major sponsored by All Nippon Airways, that the top players in the world are at the event and that the tradition of the champion leaping into Poppie’s Pond will continue this year.
The LPGA, IMG and Golf Channel will all have to work to make that happen. And so will the players, who will have to be diligent and remain in the bubble at the event to keep themselves and everyone else at the event safe.
But it can be done. The PGA Championship in San Francisco has proven that. And the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage should hope for more of the same in September.
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.