The Water Cooler - The "Off-Season": Strategy and Bananas
If you are like many golfers, you have an “off-season”. Snow falls, courses close, the temperature drops, and football is on TV. Golf is gone till spring, at least as far as you getting to play. Yes, you may make a January trip to some exotic local and get in a couple of rounds, but for the most part, when the leaves fall golf is over for the season. Professional golfers are sort of like that. But their season is determined less by Mother Nature and more by the PGA Tour schedule, albeit that was originally guided by Mother Nature anyway. For many Tour pros the season ends when the “Playoffs”, the FedEx Cup begins… because they didn’t make the top 125 in FedEx Cup points they are done, and many of them now must consider what to do for a career next year because they do not have a free pass back to the Tour. For the top 125 golfers on the PGA Tour, the season is over when they are eliminated from the playoffs, or the last putt is holed at the Tour Championship.
What’s a little out of whack is the new season starts 2 weeks after that event so not a big off season as far as the schedule is concerned. But whoever you are, sooner or later you need to take some time off, even if you’re Ironman Sung-Ji Im who played 35 PGA Tour events during the 2020-2021 season. What do the pros do during their “off-season”?
In the past, for many well-know players the strategy was, “anything but golf”. To be fair, the schedule was different. There was a definitive end to the season towards the last week of September and a definitive beginning in late January, a solid 3 months off. A few examples: Bruce Lietzke and his caddie, Al Hansen, are famous for the “banana in the headcover” test. Bruce was asked by his caddie if he was going to practice over the off-season (3+ months) and Bruce replied, “not a lick”. His caddie didn’t believe him and decided to create a trap for Bruce by putting a banana in one of Bruce’s headcovers. Bruce would find it when he took the club out to practice and dispel the idea he wasn’t going to touch his clubs. Nope. One black, fungus covered, very rotten banana showed up in a headcover for Bruce’s first event of the season the Bob Hope Desert Classic in January 1985. Bruce never touched his clubs, they sat in a corner of his garage the entire winter.
Jack Nicklaus arrived for his first event of the 1972 season, the Crosby at Pebble Beach after taking 3 months off, and had to find his caddie, Angelo Argea, before he could touch his golf clubs to start the season. Angelo had taken them with him and had them the entire off season. This wasn’t typical of Jack, but apparently, he needed to step away from his clubs between 71 and 72. The time off must have worked, Jack won the tournament.
Steve Pate had a simple plan for his time off, “sit around, eat, and get fat”. Will McKenzie, granted not the most well know player, spent an off season in an ice cave. And Tom Wieskopf was famous for his time in the wilderness hunting and fishing. He skipped a Ryder Cup appearance to travel to the Yukon, yup, Yukon, to hunt bighorn sheep, yup, bighorn sheep. Anything but golf.
Things are a little different these days. Certainly, there are players who take time off. Matt Kuchar is known to spend 6 or 7 weeks in Hawaii with his family before playing in the Sony Open or the Tournament of Champions if qualified. Social media is filled with famous golfers and their significant others lounging on a beach somewhere, but the time is not as long, the shutdown not as significant, and the schedule not as broken. The Tour doesn’t end in September, throw in a couple of “Silly Season” events, and then start up again in January. Now we have the “wraparound” season. A FedEx Cup that, without significant points, can mean the loss of one’s playing privileges or at least the opportunity at big time bonus money.
These days the off season for a Tour Pro has a purpose, much of it isn’t to shut down, get away from the game for a while, and refresh. Now the goal of the off season is to improve. Improve equipment, improve technique, improve strength, improve speed, and improve flexibility. Many players sign new equipment contracts in the off season, others working with their current manufacturers, will work to dial in the specifications and mix of their sets to prepare for the season. A good many of those players now have a rule, “not going to test equipment during the season”. So, they and their equipment teams work hard to make sure the player has the right stuff.
If you’re Bryson DeChambeau, like Gary Player before him, you hit the gym. Work on increasing your clubhead speed. Bryson has made it clear he is seeking the fastest clubhead he can create, but what he is really seeking is the fastest ball speed possible. So, while there will be no days off away from the gym for Bryson, he will also continue to refine both his technique and his equipment. Bryson took a bunch of heat mid-season in 2021 when he explained how his Cobra driver “sucks right now”. He wasn’t really telling the world that Cobra makes a bad driver, what he was explaining was his driver wasn’t tuned to his swing AND his swing wasn’t creating the attack angle/launch angle and initial spin he desired. The combination of golf swing and golf club was out of kilter. Bryson and the fitting team from Cobra will spend a good portion of the off season making sure Bryson’s clubs don’t “suck” anymore.
If you are like most golfers, you don’t have a team. You don’t have an equipment contract, a trainer, a physical therapist, a mental coach, or even a swing coach (at least not a full-time professional swing coach. Your buddy who watches YouTube instruction videos doesn’t count.) So, what can you do with your off season? One consistent theme amongst the players and coaches I speak with is flexibility. Flexibility with the goal of improved long-term health. There are some players working on their swing mechanics. There are some looking to dial in new equipment and there are players seeking stronger, faster muscles. But in almost all cases the goals are followed by, “and improve my flexibility”. Flexibility is a tremendous asset to a golfer and the more golf pros I speak with the more important it seems it is… and the older the player, the higher the priority flexibility becomes. (See Vijay Singh’s workouts on social media.) While this blog isn’t designed to be an advice column, one thing we’ve learned about the off-season is almost every golfer returns as flexible as they can be. It might be worth spending some time with a medical professional, one that can create a stretching routine designed to help you improve your golf flexibility and start next season a more flexible golfer.
Oh, and 8-foot putts. Practice your putting every single day!