SAN DIEGO – With the adrenaline still flowing from his most recent victory, Rickie Fowler didn’t get a full night’s sleep on his 8,500-mile flight back to the West Coast.
“But I stayed horizontal for 12 or 13 hours,” he said Wednesday. “Just tried to force myself to get as much as rest as possible.”
When he landed, Fowler saw the perfect weather and couldn’t wait to head to Torrey Pines, to build on his recent run of success.
Only this time, he purposely stayed away from his clubs for a day. He knew he needed to take a break, however short.
It’s an ongoing issue that came into focus over the weekend when Jordan Spieth admitted that he was “beat up, mentally and physically” after a globetrotting stretch in which he visited five countries in three months.
That comment might not elicit much sympathy from the majority of his fan base, which flies coach, crams into middle seats, snacks on stale pretzels and shells out $8 for the latest movie release, but his fellow pros certainly can relate to the world No. 1’s plight.
Especially this year.
With golf returning to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century, the summer schedule is even more condensed. Three majors and a World Golf Championships event fall within a seven-week span. The Games are a week after the year’s final major. The FedEx Cup playoffs – with a bye between the second and third events – arrive a week after that. And then comes the Ryder Cup. The PGA Tour might as well rename the 2016-17 season opener the Fried.com Open.
That’s why it was alarming to hear the 22-year-old Spieth, on Jan. 24, admit that he’s already fatigued. Because there isn’t much time to catch up.
After this week’s Singapore Open – for which he is receiving an appearance fee greater than the $1 million tournament purse – Spieth will head home for a week before teeing it up at Pebble Beach and Riviera. Then comes Doral. And then his title defense at Innisbrook, his homecoming in Austin for the Match Play and his Masters warmup in Houston.
That’s a lot of golf, and a life of luxury can still take its toll.
“Managing the schedule with time commitments and the amount of travel that has to go into playing, especially globally, I think that’s a big thing that a lot of people outside the ropes don’t really understand as far as what it takes to compete at a high level week-in and week-out,” Fowler said.
Though there are obvious financial benefits to growing his brand globally, it seems Spieth has already learned his lesson: The worldwide tour isn’t worthwhile if his play suffers.
It’s a complicated decision that Rory McIlroy is still grappling with. Just last fall, he contemplated his dual membership on the PGA and European tours because of the nonstop travel. Last year alone he figures he flew 350 hours, visited 120 airports and spent 287 nights in a hotel room.
“That’s the sort of travel that you have to do to be a worldwide player,” he said.
Fatigue affects each player differently, whether it’s poor decision-making, a loss of patience or lazy, uncommitted swings. And as deep as the fields are these days, that little edge can be the difference between winning and finishing fifth, as was the case with Spieth last week in Abu Dhabi, where he “wasn’t 100 percent.”
There is no perfect formula, of course, no ideal way to maximize both a player’s profits and performance.
In the three months following the Tour Championship, Patrick Reed played in Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, Dubai, the Bahamas and Hawaii, running off seven consecutive top-10s worldwide. Then again, the nonstop schedule is nothing new to Reed: He has logged at least 29 events each of the past three years.
No top-10 player tees it up as infrequently as Day. His appearance at the Farmers Insurance Open – assuming that he even plays, because of flu-like symptoms – will be just his second stroke-play event since Sept. 27.
And then there’s Justin Rose, who is making his 2016 debut at Torrey Pines after a seven-week break. Consider this pacing for a long year, because he’ll play deep into November with the European Tour’s Final Series.
“I always try to take maybe two, three weeks without touching the clubs after the end of the season and I want until I get that itch to play again,” he said. “I think that’s really important to sort of miss the game of golf, and once I feel that, I get back to practice.”
The itch returned three weeks ago, but the challenge moving forward is balancing how to be well rested and also competitively sharp for the biggest events. Rose plans to take a week on/week off approach.
“Just work in sprints this year and try and get your downtime as best you can,” he said.
There hasn’t been much of that lately for Fowler. Both weekend rounds in Abu Dhabi were all-day affairs after lengthy fog delays. After his stirring victory Sunday, he boarded a plane at 12:30 a.m. and flew 17 hours across 12 time zones, landing in time for a youth clinic hosted by one of his main sponsors, Farmers Insurance. He took only a few swings.
“I had to force myself to relax a little bit,” he said.
Come summertime, he shouldn’t need much convincing.