For Tour's top 30, finally the finale

By Steve Hummer
Published on

ATLANTA -- A combination of factors has helped the favored few through the funnel of the PGA Tour playoffs to this week's Tour Championship.

It certainly helped to go all Michelangelo on the course at the right time (hello, Jason Day).

There was the undeniable energy of earlier success -- the physics of momentum -- that brought some to East Lake (calling Jordan Spieth).

Don't discount the vagaries of luck. Jim Furyk is in doubt this week with a wrist issue that flared up at the BMW Championship. Yet, Henrik Stenson felt his wrist go in the same event, only to have a physical trainer pop a tiny bone back into place and send him happily on his way.

For all of them, making it to the Tour Championship has involved successfully coping with the same phenomenon, call it golf fatigue syndrome. It is a curious condition that afflicts those who play the game for a profession rather than for an escape. They have stumbled upon a concept foreign to the everyday world: Yes, you can play too much golf.

When Spieth, who earlier in the year couldn't lose a major, suddenly couldn't make a cut in back-to-back playoff events, there was floated the idea that he was over-golfed. Not by himself, though. He's not an excuse guy.

"I think (in those events) he was just done," Day mentioned. "I think he was mentally and physically tired... He's not a machine, he's human, and it's okay for him to be tired and kind of wanting to be somewhere else."

Spieth appeared to get his second wind last week in Lake Forest, Ill., and was, in fact, spotted at a quiet East Lake Monday laboring on the range.

By this time of year, top players have been put through the pepper mill of four majors. Their PGA Tour circadian rhythms are telling them this should be the time to rest. A long season is at sundown, and isn't that when you're supposed slow down and take a lazy stroll?

But some, just to make it to East Lake, have spent the last month in intense negotiations with the golf ball.

"Every tournament is a big tournament, it's like you got to get up for every week," Harris English, the one-time Bulldog said. He was grinding to the very last putt, an 18-foot make Sunday that earned him the final spot in the Tour Championship.

"It's hard to do that," he said, pointing to necessary changes in his practice schedule this time of year. "You've got to really pace yourself, not really hit balls between rounds that will wear you out. Save yourself for the weekends when you've got to be your strongest."

Sure, about the only contact in this sport is the occasional victory hug with your caddie on Sunday. This is not an 82-game NBA schedule, with those Minneapolis-to-Oakland back-to-backs. We kind of have to take their word for it that serious golf can drain one's battery.

More and more, players are trying to fight off the late-season lull in the fitness trailer. Finding that he was "always excited to make Atlanta, but always a little bit run down," Matt Kuchar decided to add to his offseason workouts that mostly amounted to playing tennis and chasing his children. No one is going to confuse him for a personal trainer these days, but Kuchar insists he has a little more oomph coming into this Tour Championship than those of the past.

The most wear seems to occur between the ears.

"I'm spent. I'm ready for a break. I'm ready for a break more mentally than physically," Zach Johnson said.

Golf fatigue syndrome was a lot more pronounced last year entering the Tour Championship, the moaning and groaning much louder then than now. That was a Ryder Cup year, compressing the September schedule even more. In that, there was no week off during the four-tournament playoff, as there was this year.

"Just being able to have a good week off last week, just being able to rest up as much as possible last week was huge for us," Day said.

"You play four straight -- and for me, two is my kind of max -- and then I think you start making more mental errors."

That brings up the one issue that touches the paying customer: Are we, here at the apex of golf's version of a playoff, getting a playoff-quality product? Are we getting the best golf possible out of this most select field?

"It's probably different for everybody," Kuchar said. "I typically say this time of year you're seeing guys a little run down; you're probably not seeing the highest quality golf."

The schedule has been kinder this year. The players seem in an overall better frame of mind. Guys just may be able to get to the first tee Thursday without bottled oxygen.

As for the quality of golf, take note of last week. The Conway Farms Golf club will be repairing the divots to its psyche for some time after Day went 22 under in four days there.

The ones who succeed this week at East Lake will be the ones who have conquered the exotic weariness that golf may induce.

They will be the ones who feel the effects of the long season and determine, as has Johnson, "Those are good problems. There's still a lot on the table to play for."

With millions at stake -- $10 million as a bonus to the FedEx Cup champion -- they will need all their strength just to count their winnings.

This article was written by Steve Hummer from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.