An interesting short piece from Axios. In short:
In the two weeks since the PGA Tour returned, players have recorded notably low scores, suggesting the fanless environment could be helping them focus.
I certainly think that this is a factor, but I also wonder if the extra time off has also been helpful. Even if they kept up with their regular training, a lack of travel and other activities likely means that the golfers are simply better rested than usual, which can be a huge difference maker.
It will be interesting to see how these two factors play out in other sports as they return without fans. For example, the soccer world has attributed lackluster World Cup performances to players who played a high volume of games in the preceding club season: if your team went deep in tournament and cup play–on top of the rigors of the regular season–you might just be physically spent by the time the big tournament rolled around. I’m quite curious as to how the extra time off will impact NBA minutes and shooting accuracy late in games, as well as pitcher’s stamina in MLB.
As for the lack of fans in team sports, there are a variety of implications. Some athletes will likely focus better in the fanless environment, while others may struggle if they are accustomed to feeding off fan energy. Early results from German soccer suggest that empty stadiums have neutralized home field advantage; such an advantage is already out the door in the “bubble” format being pursued by the US pro leagues. Finally, in addition to fan energy (or a lack thereof), there is a physiological factor at play: what players’ see as they play the game will be radically different. The parallel here is the NCAA basketball Final Four, where poor shooting is often explained by the games being played in retrofitted non-basketball facilities, making for radically different optics. Thus: will seats without fans cause issues of depth perception, undermining years of muscle memory and eye coordination, and bring down shooting percentages? They might, but it certainly won’t stop us from watching whenever things start back up.