Play Ball


When the New Yankees wrapped up World Series title No. 27 on Nov. 5, catcher Jorge Posada packed his gear away for a well-earned break. It will be nearly 3 ½ months between last out and the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers for the Bombers’ backstop.

Compared with golf, Posada & Co. have got it made. For Tour players an offseason, at least in the traditional sense, is a misnomer at best, and an oxymoron at worst, much like unforced errors and four-hour rounds at Pebble Beach.

For most Tour types, particularly those playing the season-opening SBS Championship this week, their last official tournament was in late September, followed by the Presidents Cup (Oct. 11) for some or an assortment of silly season offerings that stretch deep into December.

What offseason there is for the game’s elite is a hurried blur of swing and equipment changes and goal setting, and how that postseason “to do” list is accomplished is as varied as the golf swing.

Zach Johnson, fresh from his most consistent season on Tour, has what is probably the most structured offseason regimen. In late October Johnson assembled “Team Zach” – which includes his caddie, swing coach, sports psychologist and trainer – at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort for two days of dissecting and detailed planning for 2010.

“It easily could have been four days,” Johnson said.

Much of a player’s offseason routine dovetails with his personality, and Johnson, a detail-oriented type, sets specific statistical goals to reach and creates an intense offseason program to achieve those numbers.

“For example, scrambling ... if I can get to a certain level and keep everything else like it has been, my driving and greens in regulation, then that’s going to take me to another level,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s early-season success, four of his six Tour titles have come in the spring, including last year’s victory at the Sony Open, suggests his offseason intensity is working. Yet offseason regimens are not of the one-size-fits-all variety.

Fresh from his worst year on Tour, Lucas Glover put his golf clubs away after his last event in 2008 (BMW Championship in early September) and didn’t see another Tour tee sheet – or nearly any other tee sheet for that matter – until the end of January. The result? His best year on Tour including his breakthrough victory at Bethpage and six top 10s.

Glover followed the same formula at the end of 2009, going home to Greenville, S.C., after playing the Chevron World Challenge in December, taking a vacation with his wife to Blackberry Farms in Tennessee and spending time with his grandfather before leaving for Hawaii on Jan. 1.

“It was basically the same thing,” said Mac Barnhardt, Glover’s manager with Crown Sports. “He just needed some time at home to unwind and get ready for 2010.”

Somewhere between Johnson’s multifaceted preparation and Glover’s relaxed approach is Dustin Johnson, the long-hitting second-year phenom.

Johnson’s last official Tour event was at Turning Stone in New York in early October (he did play the low-key Shark Shootout in December). In between he enjoyed almost equal parts work with swing coach Alan Terrell and relaxation.

“He took 18 days off after Turning Stone and that really helped,” Terrell said. “It’s a short off-season for these guys so you have to balance it. Usually he’ll work six or seven days hard and then take a couple off. He’s not a guy who will go five days a week for two months.”

Johnson’s ebb-and-flow routine worked well in 2009, when he started the season with an 11th-place finish at Kapalua followed by his second Tour title at Pebble Beach and a tie for 10th at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.

His offseason program also favors a player who relishes the long courses found on the Tour’s West Coast Swing. In 2010, Johnson plans to play seven of the first eight events, with his only West Coast miss being Phoenix.

Whichever route a player takes to ready for the new season, it’s vastly different then the formula used by previous generations. Before the Tour ballooned to nearly 50 events and the silly season became a two-month circuit, players had the option of a month or two of no golf and a few weeks to prepare for the next calendar.

“In the old days the season was over in October and players would take eight of the 10 weeks left in the year off,” said Rocky Hambric, president of Hambric Sports Management. “There was only a Skins Game, not a million other tournaments to play in like Tiger’s event. You had a real offseason. They’d put the clubs away and they’d go to Arizona or California to get ready.”

Before the World Golf Championships, many players would start their seasons at the Bob Hope, where “golf in a dome” assured favorable conditions for rusty swings, before moving on to Doral to ready for the year’s first major in April.

But now that window has collapsed to a few days, not weeks, and players have to find the right offseason formula for them, because in golf there is no spring training – just Thursday’s opening day in Hawaii.

Play ball.