If you’re the type of golf fan who blocks out huge chunks of TV time to watch the PGA Tour’s best shine on the biggest stages, the next 12 weeks might be the closest thing to couchbound bliss.
From Thursday’s start of the U.S. Open to Labor Day, the calendar slips into this extraordinary alternating-week sequence of big events and catch-your-breath weeks. Three majors in seven weeks. The Olympics. The early FedExCup playoff events.
Oakmont, Firestone, Troon, Baltusrol, Rio. At no time will we see more than 11 days between one coveted trophy (or medal) awarded and the next one up for grabs. Plan wisely. Be sure to acknowledge your nongolf friends and family.
Those who tee it up on this schedule, though, might see it differently. This could be the most challenging summer of their careers.
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Though players have different rhythms in their effort to peak for the biggest events, they all involve a certain period to unwind and recharge. And this schedule allows precious little of either.
“I’ve never been more stressed in my life than right now,” said Jason Day, who sits atop the world rankings after seven wins in the past 10 months.
“Being No. 1 in the world, having a lot of expectations on you, having to practice so hard to keep that No. 1 spot, trying to win as many tournaments as I can puts a lot of stress and pressure on your shoulders.”
Day isn’t necessarily complaining, mind you. That actually was the Aussie’s long-form, (maybe too) honest explanation Tuesday as to why his immune system let him down and he came to Oakmont recovering from a cold.
When you think about it, one could argue that this bonanza actually started two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, when 15 of the world’s top 30 showed up to be regaled by Jack Nicklaus while preparing for Oakmont’s bite.
Nor does the adventure end after Labor Day, with the rest of the FedExCup playoffs and the Ryder Cup still to follow. But the next 2 1/2 months will present the most compelling test.
Two weeks after Oakmont, the World Golf Championships enter the June calendar by cramming the Bridgestone Invitational — typically in August — between the Opens. Then it’s on to Scotland two weeks hence for the Open Championship at Troon.
The PGA Championship follows two weeks after that, going early at Baltusrol to make room for golf’s first Olympic appearance since 1904. And the FedExCup playoffs begin in another two weeks with The Barclays.
Whew. Got all that? From Bridgestone to Barclays, by the way, that’s approximately 16,400 air miles.
Not that we’ll necessarily care from our well-worn spot on the couch. We just want to see the world’s best deliver world-class performances. The question is who can muster it up — or perhaps whether they can.
There’s a reason that one-major-a-month schedule has worked so well. There’s time to rest, catch your breath, work on flaws and get in a warmup start if you’d like.
“You need to play well when it matters,” said Rory McIlroy. “I think that’s a good thing to be able to build up to playing your best golf and maybe have a week or two off to let yourself come back down again and then build yourself back up.”
Now everyone’s faced with trying to adjust on the fly.
Keep a hot hand for just a month, though, and it just might engrave some Hall of Fame credentials. These days, pretty much anyone with two major titles eventually gets into the Hall. For an up-and-comer like RBC Heritage champion Branden Grace, that could come in a span of 18 days.
Conversely, this would be a horrible time for any big-name player to be going through a slump. (By the way, has anybody seen Rickie Fowler? F-O-W-L-E-R. Once won The Players Championship. Used to dress like a traffic cone.)
This is the stretch for which the top players have been trying to prepare themselves since the new year began. More early breaks, knowing there won’t be much of one now until October.
And those handful of early withdrawals from Olympic consideration? Not to overly downplay the Zika threat, but the mosquito probably should only get equal billing with the schedule. Nor would it come as much of a surprise if several top names skipped the FedExCup opener two weeks later for an extended break.
Who knows? Maybe Adam Scott or Louis Oosthuizen gets the last laugh there by winning the FedExCup and its accompanying $10 million annuity. Which would lay another layer of intrigue over this long haul.
Pull up a chair. This ought to be fun.