Westwood says fans ‘essential’ to Ryder Cup

NEW YORK (AFP) – England’s Lee Westwood, in line to play in his 11th Ryder Cup, said spectators are “essential” to the United States (US)-Europe golf showdown despite the possibility of empty stands due to COVID-19.

Westwood, a vice captain two years ago when Europe won the trophy in France, told The Golf Channel he cannot see staging the event without the emotional responses spectators bring to the rivalry.

“I just don’t see somebody holing the winning putt, from either side, on the 18th green or wherever it may be, turning to an empty stand, raising his hands in the air and it feeling the same,” Westwood said in a Wednesday posting on the network website.

“It’s never going to feel the same, with what’s going on, but if any tournament needs fans, it’s that tournament. Just for me, the fans are essential for the Ryder Cup.”

The 43rd Ryder Cup remains scheduled for September 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, and no decisions about spectators have been announced in a season that has seen golf shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee Westwood of England during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

In a rearranged global schedule, the British Open was cancelled and three majors in the United States (US) moved to later in the year.

World number one Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and US star Brooks Koepka, ranked third, also questioned staging a Ryder Cup without fans, as the first four US PGA Tour return events are set to have next month.

A Ryder Cup postponement to 2021 “may be needed” rather than playing without spectators, Westwood said.

The Englishman played for seven Cup winners in 10 playing appearances, earning 23 points with a best of 4.5 in a 2004 winning effort.

The shutdown has played havoc with Cup qualifying, although Westwood is on the current list for European captain Padraig Harrington after a January European Tour triumph at Abu Dhabi.

“We might have to modify it a little bit,” Westwood said of the team roster selection process. “I think Padraig is pleased with the way the team’s shaping up, and the way that qualifying has gone.

“But at the same point, there are people on the outside that would have been some of the favourites to get in there. It’s a difficult one.”

European fans could have a tough time attending the Ryder Cup if two-week US entry quarantines remain in place.

With another 14-day isolation awaiting Westwood on his return to England, the 47-year-old isn’t planning a trip over to compete right away even with the European Tour off until at least late July. His top-50 status would allow him into the next two US PGA Tour events.

“It’s six weeks for two tournaments, and to me that’s just not worth it,” Westwood said. “It’s not worth taking the risk if everybody thinks that those kind of precautions have got to be in place. I don’t feel like golf’s a priority if it’s that severe.”

Westwood, a 12-time top-five finisher in majors without a victory, is set to host the European Tour’s British Masters July 30-August 2.

If the quarantine is still in place and events are played as planned, he would miss the PGA Championship, set for the following week at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

“It’s a tough situation. We can’t afford anything to go wrong and this virus to spread any more than it has done,” Westwood said.

“People want something to watch, and it’s a good way to kick-start your economy, but also we don’t want a second wave (of the virus), so we have to make sure we’re very, very safe.”