Padraig Harrington open to 2020 Ryder Cup without fans as European captain eases stance

For the better part of the last six weeks, it has been presumed that the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits will not take place unless fans are in attendance. That narrative, however, is starting to shift. First, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh opened the door to a fan-less Ryder Cup. Now, European captain Padraig Harrington is walking through it. The curious part is that Harrington has seemingly been against the idea from the start.

Here’s what Harrington said on April 9.

“Nobody wants to see the Ryder Cup played without the fans being there,” said HarringtonĀ on BBC Radio. “There’s no doubt that it makes the tournament so much better. I think the common consensus now is the Ryder Cup will not be played unless the fans are there.”

His tune has changed since then, though.Ā 

“Everyone wants fans to be there, but the question is does sport need the Ryder Cup and should the Ryder Cup take one for the team? Would it be for the greater good of sport?” Harrington said this week to The Times. “It wouldn’t be in the Ryder Cup’s best interests, but it could be in the best interests of enough people who want to see a big sporting occasion on TV.”

It would also be in Europe’s best interest to get to skip a cycle of having fans at a Ryder Cup on U.S. soil. I’m not saying that’s Harrington’s intent here, but it’s certainly an unintended benefit for his side.

There are innumerable ways to look at this, but it does appear from the outside as if Harrington is turning his position. Why that’s the case remains to be seen, but I would imagine there have been talks with the European Tour, which controls the European side of this spectacle. Remember, the European Tour — where Harrington thrived throughout his career — is largely floated along by Ryder Cup revenue. To throw the schedule off by even a year could massively affect that tour financially, especially given its current state. This is not dissimilar to where college athletic departments stand as it relates to college football being played.

So maybe the Ryder Cup will happen without fans — I still think you can go 2021 in the U.S. with fans and stay on track for 2022 — but it’s become clear that there is a (large) financial incentive to keep it on the docket with or without those in attendance. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it does seem like that’s the direction in which we are now headed.

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