With a major being contested in each of June, July and August, a WGC and the four FedExCup play-off events, the run of tournaments from mid-June to late September is hectic to say the least.
While players can pace their schedules up to the second major of the year, it’s hard to miss big events over the summer, especially with other sponsors commitments and the need to keep an eye on playing the minimum number of events to meet membership requirements. Just ask Jordan Spieth about that one.
As the Ryder Cup takes place immediately after the Tour Championship, there’s little chance to recharge the batteries and, although he may be an extreme case given his passion for the Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter said he didn’t mind missing East Lake one little bit as it would give him an extra week to prepare for the showdown at Le Golf National.
Using the U.S. Open as a starting point, we’ve had 15 weeks of golf either side of the pond up until Tiger’s spectacular coronation at the Tour Championship.
The schedule for many has probably been even more intense since the Open Championship and Carnoustie to East Lake was a particularly focused ten weeks of activity.
Below, I’ve listed all 24 Ryder Cup players and next to each posted two numbers. The first is the amount of events played from the U.S. Open to the Tour Championship and the second from Carnoustie to East Lake.
Justin Rose 8 6
Jon Rahm 10 7
Rory McIlroy 9 6
Tommy Fleetwood 11 8
Tyrrell Hatton 9 6
Alex Noren 8 6
Thorbjorn Olesen 10 6
Paul Casey 10 8
Sergio Garcia 9 6
Ian Poulter 10 7
Henrik Stenson 7 6
Shinnecock to East Lake total tournaments = 110. Average played = 9.17
Carnoustie to East Lake total tournaments = 78. Average = 6.5
Brooks Koepka 10 8
Dustin Johnson 9 8
Justin Thomas 10 7
Patrick Reed 11 8
Bubba Watson 11 8
Jordan Spieth 8 6
Rickie Fowler 8 5
Webb Simpson 11 8
Bryson DeChambeau 10 8
Phil Mickelson 10 7
Tiger Woods 9 7
Tony Finau 10 8
Shinnecock to East Lake total tournaments = 117. Average played = 9.75
Carnoustie to East Lake total tournaments = 78. Average = 7.33
To be honest, it’s hard to split the collective activity from the US Open to the Tour Championship. The Americans played an average of 9.75 events to Europe’s 9.17.
But over the narrower study period of Open Championship to the Tour Championship, the Americans have played, on average, nearly a tournament more – 7.33 to Europe’s 6.5.
With the Ryder Cup an event that could easily be decided by very fine margins, Europe’s extra freshness may just provide it – especially when it’s combined with home advantage.
Last time on European soil? Team USA averaged 9.91 events to Europe’s 9. The hosts won 16.5-11.5.
Is Five Too Many?
The other area of fatigue worth considering comes in the heat of battle. Both captains will think deeply about how much rest to give their players and in 2012 Davis Love rotated his pack to the extent that no-one played all five matches.
The contest was decided by a single point and McIlroy and Rose both won their singles.
Rose did it by winning the final two holes against Phil Mickelson so, in fact, can adrenaline outweigh fatigue? And therefore, is sitting people out unnecessary? Does it actually cause them to lose momentum? Is it better to keep the engine running?
Here’s the record in singles play of golfers who went all five matches going back to 2006. The 2010 results aren’t included as adverse weather meant a change in format which meant no-one played more than four times.
Europe – P5 W2 L2 H1
USA – P2 W1 L1
Europe – P2 W1 L0 H1
USA – P2 W1 L1
Europe – P2 W2 L0 H0
USA – No-one played all 5
Europe – P1 W1 L0 H0
USA – P2 W0 L1 H1
Europe – P3 W1 L2 H0
USA – P4 W2 L2
From 2006 to 2016, there were 23 instances of a player going into battle five times.
The overall record:
P23 W11 L9, H3
If we break it down by team, it’s been a more worthwhile strategy for the Europeans.
Europe P13 W7 L4 H2
USA P10 W4 L5 H1
There has certainly been an assumption amongst many gamers and bettors that blindly opposing an over-golfed five-game starter is a smart move.
Overall, it isn’t. Especially from a European perspective.
Then again, there is an obvious caveat. Those sent out five times are likely to be the elite players. In which case they’re likely to be made favorite to win their Sunday head-to-head.
One more line of investigation – does it matter what results these Five Guys recorded in their previous four matches? Does it follow that if you have a winning record up to that point, you’re more likely to win?
The answer is ‘no’. Of the last seven Europeans to have a winning record after four matches, three won their singles, three lost and one halved.
A final point. Despite the number of years involved in the above stats, the sample size is relatively small.
That applies to the big negative against the Americans this week. Jim Furyk was asked in his press conference Monday about whether it was significant that Team USA hadn’t won on European soil for 25 years.
Furyk replied: “Well, we’re reminded of it quite often. It’s not anything I need to mention in the team room. There’s not like a big “25” sitting in there anywhere.”
Perhaps he’s right to dismiss it. It seems like a lot of years but only equates to the loss of five matches. There are longer streaks in sport.