Tournament golf has changed dramatically since modern spectator standards were shaped by the emergence of Arnie's Army at Augusta National back in 1959. With an entrance ticket available for a relatively modest $5, it was a time when the Masters was far from being the sell-out it would become.
So it was that by way of beefing up the galleries, any soldier in uniform from nearby Camp Gordon was given free access. And as Arnold Palmer later recalled: "When they found out I was the defending champion, they joined my gallery. That prompted one of the GIs working a back-nine scoreboard to announce the arrival of Arnie's Army."
An observant scribe from The Augusta Chronicle then produced the headline, 'Arnie's Army', leaving Palmer suitably pleased. "Boy, did it ever stick!" he enthused.
Galleries, noisy or restrained, went on to become an integral part of tournament golf in recent decades - until the arrival of Covid-19. Now, in common with horse racing and English Premier League soccer, the roar of the crowd has been silenced, for public health reasons.
In talking recently to US scribes, Jordan Spieth raised an intriguing possibility. Looking towards the PGA at Harding Park, San Francisco (August 6-9), the winner of three Majors suggested: "I imagine it would be easier to win your first Major without fans, just because of the atmosphere. I think it would be more comfortable coming down the stretch."
Paul McGinley, who has experienced the phenomenon at a variety of levels, agrees with him. "The more the pressure is lessened, the better your chance of coming through," he said. "I remember being completely out of my comfort zone when I was in the last pairing with Tom Lehman (the prospective champion) on the Saturday of the 1996 Open at Lytham. The crowd were definitely a part of that, along with the intensity of cameramen working inside the ropes, watching every shot you hit.
"With so many people following the last pairing on the course, I shot a 74 to Lehman's 64. I found it very unnerving, whereas Tom seemed quite comfortable in that environment. So it should certainly help an inexperienced young guy not to have crowds around."
McGinley went on to talk about the way some of the great players would work their galleries, claiming few could do it better than Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods.
I have a particular memory of Philip Walton being subjected to the Seve treatment when Ryder Cup skipper, Tony Jacklin, arranged to have them paired together in Frankfurt for the final qualifying event, the German Open, in August 1989. Upset by unruly crowd movements around greens and tees, Walton proceeded to miss the cut and with it, his chance of making the European team a month later.
Then there was the memorable occasion during the 1999 Phoenix Open when Woods hit his drive on the par-five 13th, left and behind a boulder. On being told that the boulder was a movable obstruction, he proceeded to enlist a group of spectators to heave it away, giving him a clear shot to the green. Mind you, he still lost by three strokes to Rocco Mediate.
Interestingly, Christy O'Connor Snr had mixed views about galleries, who treated his frequent successes in the Carrolls International at Woodbrook like an annual pilgrimage.
"There were occasions when I developed a reputation for being a little cool to my many supporters," he told me. "But I had to protect myself. When you allow people to get too close to you during a round, for instance, it breaks your concentration. And that can be fatal."
A classic example of that occurred at the climax of the 1961 Masters and deprived Palmer of the title. As The King recalled it: "My tee-shot (on the 72nd) was fine. All I had left was a seven-iron approach shot I had executed dozens of times. As I neared my ball, however, I saw someone in the gallery ropes motioning me over. It was none other than my good old friend, George Low (noted putting guru and golf hustler), looking dapper as ever in his jacket and necktie. 'Nice going boy,' he said to me, patting my arm affectionately. 'You won it.'
"I made the biggest mistake you can make in such a situation - I accepted his congratulations prematurely and, in doing so, completely destroyed my concentration. As I stood over the ball, my brain seemed to completely shut down . . . "
The ball was pushed into a bunker from where he exploded through the green. He then took three more to get down, running up a ruinous double-bogey six to lose to Gary Player by a stroke. "I had failed to stay focused until the job was finished," Palmer acknowledged.
Later, in the twilight of his days, O'Connor reflected: "I love the idea of being out there with nature in the fresh air, getting a little exercise. The roar of the crowd is gone and, believe me, it was magnificent. Now my enjoyment is in playing with friends and having a laugh."
O'Connor also treasured the camaraderie of fellow professionals. One memorable occasion for him was when, as a 55-year-old, he was paired with Ballesteros in the third round of the 1980 Irish Open at Portmarnock. "I remember the two of us playing the long 13th, where Seve was through the back and I was wide of the bunker on the left," Himself recalled.
"He had a fairly easy up and down, but mine was a tough one. I thought I did really well to get it to about five feet from where I sank the putt. So both of us had birdies. On his way towards the 14th tee, Seve stopped and went across to where I had chipped from. After looking hard at the spot, he gave me a gentle pat on the back, whispering 'Magic.' It's nice to have a memory of these things."
McGinley has had many such moments, some of which helped him understand the anatomy of crowd pressure.
"At my first Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 2002, Jesper Parnevik pulled me aside one evening on the practice days and said: 'Paul, you're going to be playing an event with an atmosphere you've never experienced before. There's an energy that comes from crowds at Ryder Cups that you'll find in no other event. That energy is going to be very positive this week because we're playing at home. In my experience, there are two ways of dealing with it. You can take it and ride it like a surfer would ride a wave. That's the first way. The other way is what Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo have done. You can block out everything and stick to your routine; disengaging totally from everything around you. You must decide for yourself which camp you fall into. Don't get caught between the two.'"
McGinley continued: "That was brilliant advice. The more experience I had of Ryder Cups, the more I understood the truth of what Jesper said. I chose to engage with the crowd like Ian Poulter and Seve have done. As a result, I gained a greater understanding of how to handle these situations than in my early years on tour. How to make spectator pressure work to your advantage.
"Still, I was very interested to watch that recent Michael Jordan documentary, where he claimed that motivation shouldn't come from anything external, it has to come from inside. That's why he harboured grudges, which he used to motivate himself. It was never the crowd which motivated him, rather a perceived slight from another player or someone in the media. There are different ways of doing it."
As a general principle, however, McGinley is of the view that no sportsperson wants to perform to empty stands. "I've watched a lot of soccer over the last six weeks since the lockdown and for the most part, it's been pretty poor fare," he said. "Generally, the intensity of the play is not the same. The focus of the players is not the same."
He claimed to have observed players making basic errors, simply through lack of concentration. "It's easy to get distracted when there's no critical eyes watching," he said. "I've even seen golfers making mistakes they wouldn't normally make. And Rory McIlroy seems to be among those who miss the energy of the galleries."
Yet there is a consensus which suggests that the current situation worked beautifully for 23-year-old Californian, Collin Morikawa, when he won the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village two weeks ago. The rookie could hardly believe he had come from three strokes behind with three to play to beat Major winner, Justin Thomas, on the third play-off hole.
Had there been eager spectators swarming around those play-off holes, would he have managed it so impressively? As it happened, the atmosphere wasn't much different from what he had experienced as a college competitor at Berkeley, little more than a year ago.
Yet in stark contrast, any time fans asked the great Palmer what the driving force had been behind his tournament performances through the years, the reply was always the same. "It's you," he would say.
And nobody doubted his enduring faith in the personal, people-power that he relished so much.
Sunday Indo Sport