It’s early in the week at the Tour Championship and the number of PGA Tour players in East Lake’s training room out number those on the practice tee by a 2-to-1 margin.
As one longtime Tour trainer clocked in for work early on Wednesday at September’s finale he opined, “There are some grumpy guys in there, man.”
Still, the trainer knows the 29 surly Tour types assembled in Atlanta have come by their less-than-hospitable disposition honestly.
It’s the small print of too much golf – something has to give. Yet just a single turn into the circuit’s wraparound schedule, where exactly that weak point will come is still very much a mystery.
In real-time, the traffic jam that is the tail end of the Tour’s schedule – a lineup that included eight must-play events for many of the top players in an 11-week stretch that, perhaps poetically, began and ended in the United Kingdom – is on display this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
The year’s final World Golf Championship will largely be the last start for many marquee players.
“That’s all I’m playing,” Gary Woodland said of the Tour’s two-event Asian swing back in September. “I’m not going to play very much (in the fall). I’ve played so much, I’m tired. The last four weeks have been brutal.”
That “brutal” stretch actually began at Royal Liverpool at the Open Championship on July 17, and didn’t subside for many players until the final putt dropped at the Ryder Cup in Scotland on Sept. 28.
The answer for some is to simply take more time off in the fall, limiting their early season starts, like Woodland, to this week’s World Golf Championship and perhaps last week’s CIMB Classic.
But as players ambled about East Lake in September in a daze, it became clear that it’s just not the fall events that will be impacted by a schedule that has become increasingly back-loaded in recent years.
Consider Jim Furyk, who missed just one event (the Wyndham Championship) the last two months of season.
“I did take a month off before coming into this stretch,” said Furyk, who didn’t make a start between June’s U.S. Open and the Open Championship and yet echoed a familiar refrain at East Lake, “I'm definitely a little tired. I'm a little worn down.”
Woodland made a similar adjustment to his schedule entering the fall portion of this year’s dance card with familiar results.
“I knew it, that’s why I took off a lot,” Woodland said. “This (the Tour Championship) is only my 24th week for this calendar year, which is down like five tournaments for me. I knew it, but I just didn’t think I’d be this tired.”
Neither player participated in the first three domestic fall events on this season’s Tour schedule (and Furyk did not make the trip to China this week), but as players learned last season a restful fall doesn’t exactly translate to being fresh in the late summer.
There will be some relief next season, when the circuit’s playoff “bye” week returns between the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship with an additional week off before the Presidents Cup is played in Korea, but as Furyk figures, “I think that we're going to be tired one way or the other, either way you look at it,” he said.
At issue for most top players is a distinct lack of wiggle room when it comes to scheduling after the Masters is played in April.
With the Tour’s move of The Players to May, the calendar is dotted with can’t-miss stops every month in the build up to the FedEx Cup playoffs; and without the ability to take weeks off players have settled for trying to tune out before tournaments.
“I've been limiting the amount of time really not for physical fatigue but more mental,” Furyk said at East Lake. “Just spend so much time with the game you get tired, worn down, you make silly mistakes. I've been trying to keep those at a minimum and just play.”
Still, those who found themselves pinched by this year’s season-ending crunch were quick to put their plight in perspective.
“Ask some of those journeymen that are playing 33 events each and every year trying to scrap it out to get in the top 125 and keep their job and see how bad they feel for us that we have to play four tournaments in a row,” Furyk figured. “There is probably no one worrying about it too much.”
Perhaps not, but with this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions marking the unofficial start of a long winter for the game’s best and brightest it may be the Tour, and not the players, who grow tired of the wraparound schedule first.