Rozner: Ryder Cup without fans? Hard to imagine
Standing three paces off the 18th green at Medinah, I looked back into the fairway and saw the greatest of all time leaning calmly on a short iron.
If Martin Kaymer were to miss his putt, Tiger Woods' approach shot -- on a surface that had been so big for him at a pair of PGA Championships -- would be for all the marbles.
How could it get any bigger than that?
Unfortunately for Team USA, Kaymer made his putt to guarantee Europe would retain the Ryder Cup and make 2012 the greatest in the history of the event, the visitors completing the biggest comeback ever on foreign soil.
And yet, the Ryder Cup seems to grow with every passing match.
The Chicago crowds were ferocious, but in 2016 at Hazeltine in Minnesota the fans were even louder as Sunday matches like Patrick Reed vs. Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson vs. Sergio Garcia were as good as anything you could ever witness, with Team USA pulling off a stirring victory.
Paris in 2018 was nearly as loud as Europe put a beating on the tired Americans, and there were great expectations for payback this year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Now just four months away, it's unclear whether fans will be a part of the massive event -- or if it will take place at all -- with the PGA Tour restarting in 10 days and playing the first few events minus spectators.
What is becoming clear is that the players think there's little reason to stage the matches without fans. Even the Europeans, who would have a much more peaceful time of it without the raucous American patrons, believe holding off for a year is the best policy.
"Anybody that's been to the Ryder Cup, player or fan, talks about the atmosphere," European veteran Lee Westwood told Golf Channel last week. "The people that create the atmosphere are the fans.
"I just don't see somebody holing the winning putt, from either side, turning to empty stands, raising his hands in the air and it feeling the same. If any tournament needs fans, it's that tournament. The fans are essential."
As the tournament has become a worldwide phenomenon, the galleries have made it must-see television.
"I personally don't want to play if there's no fans," Brooks Koepka told Golf Channel. "I don't see a point in playing it."
Last month, Rory McIlroy agreed, even if would mean a healthier week for the visiting team.
"That's from a European, going to America, knowing that I'm going to get abuse," McIlroy said during a TaylorMade Instagram event. "Obviously, it would be better for Europeans to play without fans because we wouldn't deal with some of the stuff that you have to put up with, but at the same time it wouldn't be a great spectacle. There would be no atmosphere.
"So if it came to whether they had to choose between not playing the Ryder Cup or playing it without fans, I would say just delay it a year."
A few days ago, McIlroy went even further in a BBC interview.
"My personal hunch is I don't see how it is going to happen," McIlroy said. "I think the majority of players would like to see it pushed back until 2021 so that they can play in front of crowds and have the atmosphere that makes the Ryder Cup so special."
Four months is a long time from now, and at this moment there seems no reason to make a call. Among those who agree is 2014 European captain Paul McGinley.
"I don't think we have to make that decision for another five or six weeks," McGinley told Golf Channel on Thursday. "A lot is gonna happen between now and then, so I think we should reserve judgment. At this moment, I'm very open to it being played.
"Let's see where we're at in six weeks. We might even be in a situation where we have a normal Ryder Cup."
McGinley also said that golf should not cancel even if there are no fans.
"I wouldn't be averse to it," McGinley said. "It's important to keep all our options on the table and not look pompous as a sport or as a tournament, like we're the only ones going to cancel because we lack the atmosphere, when all over the world events will go on behind closed doors, like the NBA.
"If we are gonna cancel or postpone, let's do it for the right reasons, rather than just because we're gonna lack atmosphere. Of course it's gonna lack atmosphere. Every sport is gonna lack atmosphere without fans."
Preparations for something this big take years, and if it's going to be pushed back, that decision probably needs to be made by about mid-July when fans are expected back on the ropes at Tour events.
The 47-year-old Westwood is currently inside the cut for the European Team after winning in Abu Dhabi early this year, moving him up to No. 31 in the world. He's hoping to make his 10th team and first since 2016 in what is likely his last opportunity, so few players have more at stake than Westwood if the Ryder Cup is delayed a year.
"I'm glad that's not my decision to make. It's a tough one," Westwood said. "Obviously, there's a lot to take into account, but if it's a choice of playing with or without fans, if it's without fans maybe a postponement is needed."
On that topic, it seems there is universal agreement among the players. As for whether it becomes necessary, there won't be much agreement on that.