It might help Matthew Wolff, minimizing the distractions.
It also might not help him, as a player comfortable both in his own skin and in front of crowds. "He enjoys having all eyes on him, being the center of the show," high school teammate Spencer Soosman once told GolfChannel.com. "That's kind of who he is."
Asked Saturday evening how the absence of fans affected his performance, when he shot a glistening front-nine 30 en route to a glowing third-round 65, Wolff deadpanned, "It hurt it."
Several people guffawed justly.
"No, I'm just kidding," he said.
"Yeah, it's obviously a lot different," he said. "I have yet to play a major with fans, so I'm really excited for the first time that happens, but I think I do feed off of fans. Behind 10 green and 11 tee box there are fans in their houses; they were howling for me, and I love seeing people out there. But it is a different atmosphere. I think coming down the stretch maybe makes me a little more calm just to see less people, but, yeah, I really don't think too much about it."
"Yeah, it sucks," countered Xander Schauffele, the No. 7 player in the world.
Schauffele, 26, who frequents major leader boards so routinely they ought to go ahead and put his name up there on Wednesday, had himself a daydream of a Saturday romp through holes Nos. 6 through 9. He hit a 14-foot birdie on No. 6, a 51-foot birdie from off the green on No. 8 on which he started walking confidently while it finished its business of going in and a 15-foot eagle on No. 9 right out of some eagle textbook.
"I made sort of, I think, almost a 20-yard putt or 17-yard putt on the eighth and then eagled the ninth, and I was sitting there — it was just awkward," he said. "It's the U.S. Open, and it's a major championship, and it's playing really tough. Those are sort of the shots that really get your tournament going around and fires up the crowd, and it was just — I mean, you hear crickets chirping."
Then his thinking meandered to the benefit: "It was kind of lonely out there, not going to lie, but I think it's definitely easier to sort of stay in your own head space and not let anything sort of bug you too much since there's no one out there."
Rory McIlroy, who shot a 68 to lurk six shots from first, spies a benefit for Wolff.
"Yeah, of course," the four-time major winner said. "It's one variable that you just don't have to deal with. . . . Maybe not a loss of an advantage to me, but it just makes it a touch easier for the guys at the top. Even today, look, you've got Bryson [DeChambeau] and [Patrick Reed] out in the final group, and any other U.S. Open final grouping you've got those two guys, things are going to be said and tempers are going to flare. Even if those guys don't have to deal with that today, it just makes it a little different and maybe a touch easier if you're in those final few groups."
In another old topic worthy of a dusting-off, Schauffele likened it to college — except, he said, "We have a caddie now." As a setting more familiar to those with college still burning in recent memory, it might help Wolff, who finished up at Oklahoma State in 2019, just as it might have helped PGA champion Collin Morikawa, who finished up at California Berkeley in 2019.
Said Schauffele, a merciless five years out of college: "I'm not in his head, so I don't know what's going on. But I would imagine if you had two options, I'm sure, knowing Matt, he'd want to play in front of fans. He is that type of player. But I would have to think the polls would push towards it would be easier without fans."
Still: "It's just everything is exaggerated with people," Schauffele said. "People yelling, there's more noise, there's more things. You have to try and focus more. Right now it's so quiet, it's eerie. It's weird. It's hard to feed off certain things."
Reed did get heckled as he walked up No. 4 by a giddily miserable voice hollering from a backyard. It didn't impair Reed, who had a sturdy front nine in 1-under-par 34 to lead at 5 under. But as his back nine became a six-bogey, one-double-bogey nightmare of shots going from rough to rough or scurrying diabolically into rough, maybe some encouragement could have helped.
"It was brutal," he said.