US Open will be shell of itself without New York fans

This is the week when golf will feel it most.

The eerie quiet that comes with no spectators.

The unsettling sound of silence around tee boxes and greens while the world’s best players are doing the otherworldly things they do with the golf ball.

Since the PGA Tour’s restart in June after a pandemic pause of some three months, we’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to having no fans at golf tournaments and other sporting events. It’s become an unsatisfying, but necessary, element of the world we live in.

But it will hit home more than ever in golf at this week’s U.S. Open — more than it has the previous 14 weeks the PGA Tour has played without fans. Because this is New York and we’re more vocal and vibrant in New York than other places where sports are played.

New York expresses itself in a different, more animated and opinionated way than Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania or even California.

Winged Foot, under non-COVID-19 circumstances, would be buzzing this week with some 45,000 spectators a day roaming the grounds and voicing their approval and disapproval.

Instead, when Tiger Woods is introduced at 8:07 Thursday morning on the first tee as the 2000, 2002 and 2008 U.S. Open champion and all you hear is the sound of the morning crickets, it’ll be more jarring than ever.

Wherever Phil Mickelson goes, adulation follows. In New York, it’s more pronounced and magnified. Despite the fact that he’s from San Diego, we in New York treat him as if he’s one of our own, a homegrown public-golf kid who used to sleep overnight in the Bethpage parking lot to score a weekend tee time on the Black Course.

“The way the people treat me here is second to none, so I’m going to dearly miss having people out here this week,’’ Mickelson said.

“I miss the energy and just the positiveness that the fans bring and just that electricity,’’ Woods said. “That’s something that I’ve been playing in front of for over two decades. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of that.

“This area has some of the best golf courses on the planet, but also what makes coming up here and being a part of these events are the fans and the energy that this entire area brings. They love sports. It’s a shame that we’re not going to have that atmosphere out here this particular week.’’

Justin Thomas, ranked No. 3 in the world, said last month’s PGA Championship at Harding Park “didn’t feel anything remotely close to a major’’ without spectators.

“It is a shame because Harding and here are just two terrific major championship venues, especially here in New York with the very passionate fans that they have here,’’ Thomas said. “To not be able to experience that takes away a lot of a championship, let alone a U.S. Open. Especially coming down the last nine and on Sunday, it’s going to have a big impact. I know I miss them and I wish they could have been out here.’’

Some players, including defending U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, have struggled with the flat atmosphere at tournaments.

“Without fans the last couple months it’s been sometimes tough to get energy and get things moving,’’ Woodland said. “I’ve kind of struggled with the last couple months. But this week, I’m excited that being defending champ I have some emotion, I have some energy, and hopefully I can ride that.’’

Rory McIlroy has been transparent throughout the return to golf in saying he’s had difficulty maintaining his focus in the events without spectators, allowing his mind to wander during tournaments. His results since the restart have reflected that with only one top-10 finish in the nine events he’s played.

“I’m used to it now,’’ McIlroy said. “It took me a while to adjust to not having fans. But it’s sort of become the norm nowadays. Look, it’s different. I wish we were playing in front of fans, especially here in New York. It’s a different reception than you receive most other places in the country.’’

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