CARMEL, Ind. – What does FedEx Cup fatigue look like?
It’s Matt Kuchar, trudging to the scoring area with his hat pulled over his face.
It’s Jordan Spieth, screaming “Fore!” four times in a five-hole span.
And it’s Rickie Fowler, stomping around in the bushes after tugging a drive way left. He was so far left on the fourth hole, in fact, that Justin Thomas, following along online with the shot-by-shot tracker, paused to consider whether he, too, should take that route, because Fowler surely knew of some better angle to go that far off-line.
“Then he got up to the tee,” Fowler said, “and saw where I had hit it. He was like, ‘Oh, jeez.’”
Suffice to say, Fowler is among the many players in dire need of a break next week.
The BMW Championship is the third event in a row in these FedEx Cup Playoffs, which has turned the postseason into a battle of endurance as much as skill.
With the condensed schedule because of the Olympics, players braced themselves for a long, grueling year. In the past 86 days, there have been three majors, one World Golf Championship, the Games and three playoff events. That’s a lot of important golf, and now it has begun to take its toll.
Henrik Stenson, who has been dealing with a knee injury, withdrew from the BMW to rest up for the Ryder Cup, even though he was in position to advance to the Tour Championship. (He is now projected 35th in points.)
Justin Rose feels Stenson’s pain, though not literally. The Olympic gold medalist has been running on fumes in recent weeks and, barring a weekend miracle, won’t advance to East Lake for the first time since 2009.
“You could look at my performance and say I’m dragging,” he said. “You can’t do it all. I focus on the majors. I focus on the Olympics. I’m happy to sacrifice this for a season. It’s the way it is. You can’t do it all the time.”
Rose still isn’t fully fit after suffering a back injury in the spring. By missing the FedEx Cup cut, he’ll have two weeks off before the Ryder Cup, one of the longest weeks of the year.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said of not reaching the Tour Championship. “It might turn out to be a good thing, Ryder Cup-wise.”
Unlike Rose, Fowler is squarely on the FedEx Cup bubble – he’s projected No. 30 through two rounds – which only adds to the stress.
Desperate to make the Ryder Cup team, Fowler added the Wyndham Championship as an emergency start, but it made a hectic year even more so. It’s the first time since his rookie year that he’s played five events in a row.
World No. 1 Jason Day said his “threshold” for consecutive starts is three. Any more than that, he said, and he begins to make mental errors because of fatigue. (Note: This is Day’s third event in a row, and he is currently 10 shots off the lead.)
“Three is a really good number,” Fowler said. “Four gets tough. And five is very tough. I’m not saying that you can’t go play well. Guys have won in their 12th and 13th week in a row, and by no means is it an excuse, to be like, 'Oh, this is why I’m playing bad.'
“But yeah, I’m fatigued. It’s tough to grind it out mentally week in and week out when you play multiple weeks in a row.”
Fowler had one goal in mind during this stretch – to make the Ryder Cup team. But he has only one finish better than 22nd during this span, and it was his blown 54-hole lead at the Barclays. So, really, has he helped or hurt his cause with this exhausting run of golf?
His Olympic teammates should be just as worn out. Bubba Watson is playing for the sixth time in seven weeks; Patrick Reed for the seventh time in eight weeks; and Kuchar for the eighth time in nine weeks.
How does the fatigue manifest itself on the course? Every player is different, of course, but for Fowler …
“It’s in little mistakes, dumb mistakes, stupid mistakes – stuff that makes you go, ‘Why the heck did I just do that? How the heck did that just happen?’” he said. “If you’re playing well, it’s easy and you just kind of cruise along and it’s not mentally taxing. But it’s tougher when you’re not fresh.”
He was quick to remind that it’s not an excuse, that every time he plays he must be ready to compete against the world’s best. But his body and mind need a break.
“I am really looking forward to a week off next week,” he said.