GREENSBORO, N.C. – Perhaps rest is overrated.
The torrid 2016 schedule has brought with it an increased focus on how players craft their own list of events – when to recharge the batteries, and when to put the pedal down for weeks on end.
With the playoffs and Ryder Cup still to go, there’s still no end in sight to one of golf’s longest summers. But the leaderboard at the Wyndham Championship shows that sometimes the spark from a unique experience can outweigh any globetrotting fatigue.
Sixty men participated last week in golf’s return to the Olympics, and six of them opted to make the nearly 5,000-mile journey from Rio to Greensboro. In the wake of an emotional, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a letdown would certainly be understandable as players return to the daily grind of the PGA Tour.
Instead, three of the six have rolled right from Brazil onto the first page of the early leaderboard at Sedgefield Country Club.
Consider it Riomentum.
The trio is led by Rafael Cabrera Bello, who last week represented Spain alongside Sergio Garcia. Cabrera Bello left Rio Monday night for Miami, arriving on-site at this week’s venue Tuesday morning. Having played here only once before, he grabbed a share of the lead alongside Kevin Na with a 7-under 63 in the opening round.
“Last week was a big adrenaline week. It was the first time I was really playing, not playing for myself, just playing for my country,” he said. “I’ve had a couple days’ rest and today was continuation of the good feelings of last week.”
As a special temporary member on the PGA Tour, Cabrera Bello would only qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs with a win this week. But he sought a sponsor invite months ago from tournament director Mark Brazil with an eye on a different prize: securing a spot on his first European Ryder Cup team.
Cabrera Bello is currently sixth on the World Points list, with the top nine players on Aug. 28 earning automatic berths. Rather than rest on his laurels, he decided to add an Olympic follow-up and is still considering playing on the European Tour next week at the Made in Denmark.
“The decision was because I’ve been all year pretty much inside the Ryder Cup team, European team. So I wanted to keep fighting for it,” he said. “There was a chance of me not making it through the (European Tour) money list but making it through the world ranking points list. That’s where I wanted to focus.”
A hectic schedule is nothing new for Danny Lee, who was the Tour’s ironman while making 36 starts last season. The 26-year-old was running on fumes this summer after a stretch that included three majors and a WGC event in a five-start stretch from the U.S. Open to the PGA Championship, and he viewed the Olympics as a welcome break from the daily grind.
“Going to Rio and stuff like that, it was a big refresh for me,” Lee said. “I was trying to do my best to get a medal, but it was more for the experience. Kind of went over there as like a half-holiday, and it was great.”
Lee got a short rest at home in Texas before flying to Sedgefield, where he promptly opened with a 5-under 65. That left him two shots off the lead, but one clear of a group that included fellow Olympian Patrick Reed.
For Reed, there’s plenty of incentive this week. He returns to the site of his first Tour win precariously positioned on the Ryder Cup bubble, likely needing to play well over the next two events to secure his spot at Hazeltine.
It also marks the halfway point of an especially busy stretch for Reed, who will play seven straight weeks from the PGA through the BMW Championship and 12 out of 13 weeks dating back to the U.S. Open.
But don’t expect to hear any complaints from Reed, who just four years ago was trying to break onto the Tour one Monday qualifier at a time.
“I’m always that kind of grinder. I love to compete, love to play,” Reed said. “Anytime you can get me in the trenches to go play some golf, I’m down for it. That’s why it was pretty easy for me to come back and just kind of keep on going.”
All three players agreed that the north-south travel logistics made the return from Rio a bit easier to handle, a trip that spanned only one time zone instead of the five or six that accompany a trip to Europe.
And while three rounds still remain, it’s clearly in the early going that the Olympic spirit which fueled golfers last week – and which is still driving a field of 60 women down in Brazil – can also produce some positive lingering effects for those that made the journey.