I've been in the fitness world for most of my life and I've been involved with the PGA Tour for almost 20 years. I've seen plenty of things that have caused a player to lose his edge and slip athletically: injuries, lack of focus and discipline, improper nutrition, etc. Over the past couple of years, though, another factor has become more and more responsible for players not being able to perform at the top of their ability: economic pressure. With the PGA Tour season now being essentially a twelve-month long schedule of events, the lack of any real off-season is leaving many pros dealing with burnout both physically and mentally.
Let's go back just a few years. When the Tour Championship wrapped up toward the end of September, the season was over. The best of the best in the world might have then geared up for the Ryder Cup or President's Cup if an event was being held that year, but if you'd had a reasonably solid season, you'd be able to shut it down if you wanted until it was time to head off to Hawaii in January. The Fall Tour season was a handful of events that existed mainly to let guys on the bubble of keeping their Tour cards earn some more money in hopes of making the Top 125 earnings list and hang onto their Tour eligibility.
Starting with the 2014 season, the PGA Tour went to its wraparound schedule and those fall events that many looked at as post-season exhibitions, all-of-a-sudden, actually mattered. Fall events now counted in the FedExCup standings and for many ceased being optional. This past fall, there were nine events packed into October, November, and December. (The Hero World Challenge and Franklin Templeton Shootout were non FedExCup points events.)
When you factor in travel, playing on The Tour is a seven-day-a-week job. Seven days a week twelve months out of the year can take its toll. You might not be able to see it just by watching the action on Golf Channel, NBC, and CBS, but when you're on the road hanging out with players, caddies, and coaches on a regular basis, you see a lot of glazed-over eyes and thousand-mile stares.
Can you imagine what the quality of play would be in the NFL if a week after the Super Bowl teams were back on the field playing games that counted in the standings? Would Lebron James be a beast of a basketball player year after year if his off-season was only an hour-and-a-half long? Yet we expect the golfers we watch week after week to be at the top of their game year round.
With no off-season, it becomes very hard to build on one's game. Without the time to reflect and reassess one's strengths and weaknesses, there's no chance to improve in a controlled, planned, and scientific way. Without the chance to rest one's body, overuse injuries become far too common. Maybe it's no surprise that the players that everyone is talking about these days -- Jordan, Rickie, Rory, Jason -- are all in their twenties. (Think about what your body let you do in your twenties compared to what it let you do in your thirties, forties, and fifties.) But how long is it going to be before a twelve month grind begins to wear even them down?
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