Some players do a lot badly and need some help to do less better. That reads like a line from a Spike Milligan poem, but there’s logic in it, albeit, well concealed.
Time management in the week of a golf tournament is an acquired skill. Getting yourself to the first tee on the first day of tournament play feeling energised and ready to play is a lot harder than it sounds. Getting yourself to the tenth tee on a Sunday afternoon feeling energised and ready to contend for the title is even harder. Neither is made easier or more likely by spending too much time at the venue from Monday to Wednesday.
It might appear on TV that we all turn up on a Thursday morning and have three days off in between tournaments. Nothing could be further from the truth. The current orthodoxy condemns a lot of the younger players to a grind that will not only stop them improving but might also shorten their careers as they burn out long before they should.
It used to take longer to get from venue to venue. Before I started caddying, flights were less frequent (or more expensive at useful times), so caddies and players would usually part company on a Sunday night with a promise to “See you next Tuesday”. Sometimes, if the previous week had gone well, they weren’t even subtly abusing one another.
The more recent expectation has been that Mondays are fair game for practice, with some players even playing 18 holes. If you don’t do anything on Monday and you’re not participating in the pro-am on Wednesday (less than half the field do in a normal week), you will almost certainly play 18 on Tuesday.
On Wednesdays, you’re either playing 18 holes with three amateur partners (who have no chance of getting around a course set up for professional tournament play in less than six hours no matter what tees they play off), or you’re on the range all day trying to make up for the fact that you’re not allowed to go out and play.
Like a nervous student cramming for an exam, some of the younger guys can end up playing 18 holes on a Monday, 18 holes on a Tuesday, and then standing on the range all day on a Wednesday. By the time they get to the first tee on Thursday, they are physically and mentally exhausted before they’ve even hit a shot. Given the overwork in the build-up, they’re likely to miss the cut, and then spend all weekend hitting balls in something that looks more like self-flagellation than meaningful practice.
That would be an exhausting week. Put four weeks like that back-to-back and you’re a racing certainty to be heading home early for a word with your doctor and your shrink on that last Friday night.
Golf is not, despite what Bryson DeChambeau would like you to believe, rocket science. As in life, if you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s not only logic but also merit in taking a look around you at what more experienced people are up to and imitating that for a while until you find your own balance.
If you’re practicing too much, one thing you will notice when you start looking around is how many of the very best players you don’t see regularly. Short, focused practice sessions are their preparation of choice. Rest is at a premium. It’s a long week. It’s a long season. The sooner you realise that, the more likely you are to have a long career.
But the Tour could also help. Here’s how.
All play on Mondays and Tuesdays could be monitored and players could be limited to playing the course once, either as 18 holes on either of those days (and none on the other) or as 9 holes each day. You could walk the course without clubs whenever you like, as could your caddie.
On Wednesdays, the pro-am format should be changed. The amateurs would continue to play 18 holes, but they’d play them with three different professionals, each of whom would join them for six holes of their round. Reducing the time commitment for the players would increase their enthusiasm levels and make it easier and more likely for them to provide the (often paying) amateur with a more memorable experience.
It would also expose more of the field to the joys of trying to help an occasional golfer improve their bunker play so that the next time they play, they can better extract themselves from a bunker that it took them twelve shots to get into in the first place.
Range sessions would be more difficult to police, but it could be done, either by limiting the time players can spend at the facility or limiting the number of balls they’re allowed to hit. That would also free up space and time on the range so that no one was unfairly deprived of it, as can sometimes happen now.
Put all of those things together and no one gets to the first tee on Thursday having played more than 24 holes in the days prior or having picked up a repetitive strain (or brain) injury from hitting balls ad infinitum.
Other employers have responsibilities to their workers when it comes to the issue of overwork, and while professional golfers are not employees of the Tour, they’re certainly its biggest asset. If the players won’t protect themselves from the long-term dangers of working too hard (or doing a lot badly), they need to be helped to do less better.