SAN FRANCISCO – The PGA Championship in August seems familiar enough. That's the place at the end of the major championship season that it once occupied for the better part of 70 years when it was known as "Glory's Last Shot."
Now it's the first shot.
It's one reminder just how much the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down golf for three months, has led to a year like no other even for sports that have been able to resume. They can be seen but not heard.
The first major of 2020 begins Thursday when the 102nd PGA Championship begins at TPC Harding Park, nearly three months after it was originally scheduled. It's the first time the PGA is the first major of the year since 1971.
Golf has spent the last eight weeks playing in silence, with only the broadcast crew, photographers, a few media, maybe a swing coach — and a few neighbors if houses were on the perimeter of the course.
The stakes, however, were never this high.
Brooks Koepka will try to become the first player to win the PGA Championship three straight times in stroke play. Tiger Woods has a chance to join Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen as five-time PGA champions, and surpass Sam Snead for career PGA Tour victories if he can win No. 83. Jordan Spieth gets another crack at the career Grand Slam.
But without thousands of fans, without cheers coming from all corners of the course, how else would golfers differentiate this from any other tournament?
"We've experienced no fans, and that's been very unusual," said Webb Simpson, who won his lone major at the 2012 U.S. Open across the street from Harding Park at Olympic Club. "We're starting to get used to it. But I think next week will feel unusual again, being a major, when there's tens of thousands lining the fairways, 10 rows deep. We're used to that — every major being sold out long in advance.
"It won't feel like a normal major."
There has been little anticipation in the weeks leading up to a major, especially considering it will have been more than a year — 382 days, to be precise — since the last one.
So much attention has been on following protocols — coronavirus tests when players arrive at a tournament, before they leave if they are on a charter, the regulations for positive tests with or without symptoms. Still on the horizon is the FedEx Cup playoffs and the $15 million payoff, and two more majors (U.S. Open and Masters) before Thanksgiving.
"The fact we haven't played one in that long is weirder than the fact we're almost in the playoffs and we're about to play our first major," Justin Thomas said.
Any player in the field can experience a life-changing moment of winning a major. All of them will have to do it without anyone cheering them along.
"You're not going to have fans and the atmosphere is not going to be what we're used to at a major championship," said Rory McIlroy, who won the Match Play at Harding Park five years ago. "But it's a major championship venue."
It might look like one. It just doesn't sound like one.