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Torrey Pines in for an oddly quiet week for Farmers Insurance Open

The high winds Monday that bent trees and toppled TV towers led to closure of the Torrey Pines Golf Course.
(Kirk Kenney / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The sense this is a year unlike any other at Torrey Pines is most evident around the 18th green on the South Course.

The finishing hole for the Farmers Insurance Open is normally presided over by a TV tower, surrounded by corporate sponsor boxes and grandstands and filled with fans.

The tower for this week’s Golf Channel and CBS broadcasts is in its usual spot. The boxes and grandstands are not.

With spectators precluded from attending the event amid the pandemic, there is no need to set up seating.

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The pond that guards the 18th green is usually the dominant water feature. Glance west, however, and this year there is an unobstructed view of a much larger body of water.

This is the setting — Torrey Pines’ two courses looking much as they do the other 51 weeks of the year — with 156 players set to tee off Thursday morning for the PGA Tour’s annual stop in San Diego.

Marc Leishman is feeling good about game again in return to Torrey Pines at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he feels right at home.

That 18th hole? It looks naked.

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“That’s the polite word for it,” said Marty Gorsich, chief executive of the Farmers Insurance Open. “The backdrops that they have gotten used to in this tournament, where the pin flag is on the finishing holes, will definitely be different.

“We normally have stands on them at 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, so that changes it. The way you might play a shot. You might have said, ‘Hey, if I go over the green here, I’m OK, because if I hit the grandstand I get a free drop.’ Or maybe the wind pattern is a little different. ... Who knows?

“The roars will definitely be missed, not having people out here. It’s great they can tune into Torrey and still watch it proudly, but to not have the roars is a bummer.”

Unlike sports like baseball, football and basketball, there will be no piped-in crowd noise.

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Not that players will miss hearing someone yell “You da man” or “Get in the hole” after shots.

What will be missed are the crowd cues, the roars when a long birdie putt finds the bottom of the hole and the groans when a distant fairway shot rolls just past the cup.

Golf claps are still encouraged for those watching from home.

Another strong field is on hand, with eight returning Farmers champions and 14 major championship winners, including Phil Mickelson, who leads in both categories (three and five).

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Seven-time champion Tiger Woods is absent, but 24 of the top 50 players in the World Golf Ranking will be playing, led by No. 2 Jon Rahm, No. 6 Xander Schauffele and No. 7 Rory McIlroy.

“I think sometimes the most difficult thing for me without having fans is just sometimes it just felt so casual,” McIlroy said following Wednesday’s pro-am. “You’re just out there playing and it’s sort of just like playing a practice round.

“That’s been the thing that I’ve had to get used to, because I play way better on tour than I do at home because I have something to focus me. ... I’m definitely one that’s in the camp of welcoming fans back and being excited about it.”

Some tour events have allowed a limited number of fans — 5,000 spectators a day will be allowed at next week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open — but California is under strict guidelines.

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The course will be limited to players and caddies and other essential personnel. Player spouses aren’t even allowed.

Gorsich said instead of 1,200 volunteers this week there will be about 450, many of them to assist with ShotLink and marshaling as spotters.

Most noticeable, of course, will be the absence of fans. The tournament typically attracts 150,000 people during the week, Gorsich said.

“It’s just weird in general [without fans],” said Brooks Koepka, a four-time major winner who two years ago was the world’s top-ranked player. “I don’t think I’ve fully gotten used to it or comfortable with it. I’ve played the last eight years playing in front of people. It’s just different.

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“The whole thing has been an adjustment learning how to play without fans. There’s no energy out there. It’s tough. My best results have come with fans, even since we’ve come back. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and just play.”

Not having fans — and the accompanying loss in sponsorships — will cost the tournament more than 80% of its revenue, Gorsich said.

“Our revenue streams are tied to having people here,” Gorsich said.

Revenue from title sponsor Farmers goes toward providing $7.5 million in prize money. Defending champion Marc Leishman earned
$1.35 million for last year’s
victory.

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“It’s an awesome venue,” Leishman said. “I mean, spectacular views, like the course is great and the city and the crowds are going to be, hopefully, here.”

Max Homa made nine birdies and shrugged off a double-bogey en route to a third-round, seven-under 65 for a share of the lead in the American Express.

Leishman mentioning the “crowd” was a reference to the U.S. Open. It returns to Torrey Pines in June, when Leishman — and everyone else — hopes some sense of normality may have returned.

Gorsich looks on the bright side: “It’s going to look great on TV. This is our hometown’s one time to show off. The course is in great shape. We know how the ocean looks. The weekend is going to be beautiful.”

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The atmosphere will just be different.

On Thursday, there will be no cheers to accompany the opening tee shot. On Sunday, the ceremony to congratulate the Farmers champion will not include handshakes.

“We have a table,” Gorsich said. “We have to stand on one side. The champion on the other side. Nobody touches the trophy. It sits in the middle. You say, ‘Hey, so-and-so, congratulations’ and you point at the trophy.”

Kenney writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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