NORTON, Mass. – It’s whispered about in locker rooms and endlessly, needlessly, editorialized each year as the PGA Tour’s season begins to wind down.
off·sea·son |ˈȯf-ˌsē-zən | noun
a time of year when a particular activity, typically a sport, is not engaged in
Last week, before he tied for 34th at The Northern Trust, Rory McIlroy perked up when asked about his upcoming schedule. The Northern Irishman played last week and is in the field this week at TPC Boston and hopes next month’s BMW Championship won't be his 2017 swansong.
But if so, so be it.
“I'm excited for it. To have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game, and just improvement,” McIlroy said of his impending offseason, a self-imposed hiatus to mend mind and body after what has been a difficult year.
“I don't think I'm ever going to get a chance like this in my career again where I get this opportunity to take three months to re-evaluate things, to work on some stuff, to just try and improve and get better.”
Following his finish in New York, McIlroy remained 43rd on the postseason points list. Without strong performances in his next two starts, last year's FedExCup champion might not make it to East Lake.
And McIlroy isn't the only player looking for a clean break and a little R&R before getting back to work in ’18.
Bubba Watson, whose tie for 10th at Glen Oaks last week propelled him into the field this week at the Dell Technologies Championship, is equally content to succumb to the competitive misfortunes of an earlier-than-anticipated exit.
“When I'm done with the playoffs, no matter where that is, I'm taking at least 4 ½ months off. I won't play until next year,” Watson said. “I'm looking forward to playing good golf, or I'm looking forward to going home for some vacation. Either way, I'm going to be tee-ball coach. So looking forward to that, being home with the family, and just have a blast.”
It’s become an annual rite of the Tour’s wraparound season, which began in 2013, to lament the lack of an offseason in golf. When play wraps up on Sept. 24 at East Lake, many of the game’s top players will head directly to the Presidents Cup the next week in New Jersey.
For those who don’t make the U.S. or International team, it’s back to work at the Safeway Open the first week of October to kick off the 2017-18 season.
While the call for a true offseason will become louder over the next few weeks, the Tour doesn’t make anyone play the fall or any portion of the schedule.
In fact, players face very limited requirements. They must play a minimum of 15 events in a season, and those who don’t play at least 25 have to add an event they haven’t played in the last five years. But even that addendum doesn’t dictate where or when that addition must be.
“The players are independent contractors. They choose where they are going to play,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at last month’s PGA Championship. “Some players go out the first part of our season (October-November). Some step back, rest, and prepare and come back in January. Some do a combination of both. Every player has an ability to decide what’s best for them.”
While players and fans may like the concept of an extended offseason, from the Tour’s perspective, contraction for the sake of rest simply doesn’t make solid business sense.
“We’re not the only tour out there, and if you create openings in our schedule, those openings will be filled. Our job is to maximize playing and financial opportunities and create the platform for our players,” Monahan said.
That means that while players like McIlroy (exempt on Tour through the 2020-21 season) can choose to take a three-month break after the playoffs, other players who don’t enjoy multiple-year exemptions face a risky competitive decision.
“I would like four months off if there were no tournaments scheduled where everybody had to take four months [off],” Paul Casey said. “Your hand is being forced a little bit. If you don’t play any of those fall tournaments you feel like you’re behind.
“These are guys who have multiple-year exemptions. I don’t. If you don’t, you are always having to step up to the plate. I would love to have a multiple-year exemption. Then you wouldn’t see me for three months.”
For the vast majority of Tour players, taking that much time off would mean spotting the field eight fall events to earn points, which count just the same as those events played in 2018.
It’s why, no matter badly players and even some fans may want a few months off to unwind after a long season, there won’t be many that follow McIlroy and Watson into a restful offseason.