The PGA: No fans, but Tiger and the marine layer
SAN FRANCISCO — The marine layer, a bewitching description of weather that takes yardage from a golf shot and adds extra clothing to a golfer. Brrr.
You should have seen Tiger Woods on Tuesday morning, buttoned to the neck. You couldn’t be sure if he had just finished a practice round or a downhill practice run.
There’s June Gloom, to which Woods, a native southern Californian, often refers when he’s back home along the coast. There’s July fog. And now that it’s August, there’s the dreaded marine layer, a sheet of gray that often comes with a morning drizzle.
How this meteorological challenge will affect the 102nd PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at good old Harding Park, is a legitimate question.
As is the issue of what it will be like in this COVID-19 era playing a major championship without fans.
Funny about golf. When there are people cheering, groaning, hollering “in the hole,” marshals hold signs that say “QUIET,” all but demanding silence. But now that fans are not allowed, and silence is guaranteed, will we miss the noise?
“That's an unknown,” said Woods. “I don't know if anyone in our generation has ever played without fans in a major championship. It's going to be very different.
“But it's still a major championship. It's still the best players in the world. We all understand that going into it, so there's going to be plenty of energy from the competitive side.”
It's still a major, one with three PGA champions, Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas — suddenly No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings — grouped the first two rounds.
“But as far as the energy outside the ropes,” said Woods, “that is an unknown. And hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can be in that position where I can feel what it feels like to have no fans and also coming down the stretch with a chance to win.”
As he’s won the PGA four times previously. As he won at Harding Park in the 2005 American Express, edging out John Daly.
And as a member of the U.S. Presidents Cup team he won at Harding Park in 2009.
It’s become a cliché, but life and golf are different in San Francisco. Maybe Mark Twain didn’t say the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer here, but someone said it. And on days like Tuesday, it’s true.
After he lost to Rory McIlroy at Harding Park in the final of the 2015 WGC match play, Gary Woodland, a Kansas guy, was asked what he thought about San Francisco. “Kind of cold,” was his succinct answer.
That was before Woodland won the 2019 U.S. Open, at Pebble Beach, which also can be kind of cold.
The cool damp conditions are what help make Harding the classic course it is, even at a mere 7,250 yards. The pros came from Memphis, where it was hot and the golf balls carried.
“Talking to some of the guys, they were laughing at their Trackman numbers already,” Woods said.”They don't have the swing speed or ball speed they did last week (at Memphis).
“It’s just the way it is. It's going to be playing longer. It's heavy air whether the wind blows or not, but it's still going to be heavy. The ball doesn't fly very far here.”
When he attended Stanford, 30 miles south, where there’s a virtual ban on cold and fog in summer, Woods would meander up here to play Harding, Lake Merced and Olympic Club, in the arctic zone.
“I’ve known that from all the years and times I've had to qualify up in this area. It's always 20 degrees cooler here than it is down there in Palo Alto," said Woods. “We knew that coming in.
“I think the weather forecast is supposed to be like this all week: Marine layer, cool, windy, and we are all going to have to deal with it.”
Isn’t that the whole idea?