The Tour’s first wraparound season is complete, and my grade is in — but let me first offer my observations. Every major sport (especially team sports) has an off-season dedicated to rest, rehab and skill improvement. It’s important for baseball, football, basketball and hockey players to have some downtime. Both their bodies and their brains need some tender love and care. Without an off-season, I’ll bet injuries would increase tenfold.
Guess what? Golfers are athletes, too! They also need some downtime, or else the injuries will pile up. But wait a minute. The injuries are piling up.
At the PGA Championship at Valhalla, Tiger Woods’s back gave out again. Jason Dufner’s neck problems resulted in a WD. Matt Kuchar withdrew with back issues. Brandt Snedeker is breaking down more often. I could go on, but you get the message. Without a prolonged break, we’re going to see more and more players dealing with injuries, and those injuries are likely to show up at the worst possible moment for the players: crunch time, when the schedule and the FedEx Cup playoffs require guys to play a lot of golf in a short period. Asking a tired, physically worn-out pro to play six or seven out of eight weeks at year’s end is a sure way to get him hurt.
Many people blame these injuries on too much time spent at the gym. That’s possible, but I suspect that players’ workout regimens are likely preventing injuries, not creating them. (It’s important to note that to maximize the benefit from working out, you need recovery time, and that means rest.)
As if injuries aren’t enough to deal with, when is a player expected to work on developing his golf skills? I used to have a “spring training” for all my players in late December and early January. It was a time to get back to basics and make the fundamental changes that would be absorbed into their games. By December, my guys had already enjoyed some weeks off in order to let their minds and bodies recover from a long year, so they were pumped to get back to work.
A great way to motivate yourself to work on your game? Toss the clubs in the closet. This creates the desire you had as a kid to play and practice. Players of all levels need an off-season break to reach their potential and develop their skills. Without time off, technique suffers, and so do scores. And for elite pros, higher numbers can cost them millions, if not playing status. As a teacher, when your players lack the time and energy to work on improving their games, you’re forced to use “Band-Aid” swing fixes. These might work for a week or two, but not for the long term.
Look at Jimmy Walker, who grabbed three Tour wins this year, dating to last autumn. It was a fine season, but I fear other players will see how he stayed atop the FedEx Cup standings almost all year and may feel pressured to play even more golf, adding to the problem.
Let’s ditch the wraparound season and institute a mandatory off-season, for the good of the players and the fans. You want to see your favorite guys playing, not on injured reserve! Wraparound-season grade: F.