MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Justin Thomas sat in the chair, exhaled, then did his best to keep his eyes open. He might have simply said the media questions he fielded were putting him to sleep. But he didn’t have the energy for humor.
A long stretch of golf across the globe was taking its toll.
Thomas is one of 19 players in the field this week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational who made the trip across 14 time zones to get from Tokyo to Memphis after competing in the men’s Olympic golf tournament.
“I got in bed at 8:30 [Monday] night and I woke up like 11:30 or 11:45 [p.m.] with all my lights on. I didn’t even make it long enough to turn my lights off; so I was clearly exhausted,” said Thomas, who is the defending champion at TPC Southwind. “I woke up in the middle of the night, was awake for probably 10 minutes. I wasn’t too pleased when my alarm went off at 6:30 [a.m.]. It was all right once I got moving, but I’m starting to drag a little bit right now.”
Thomas is not looking for sympathy. It’s simply the reality for high-level golfers at this time of year who played a West Coast U.S. Open, traveled to the United Kingdom for The Open (and some the Scottish Open as well), then headed back home to the United States, then to Japan for the Olympics and are now back in America — with a busy stretch ahead.
The fifth-ranked player in the world, Thomas posted to social media his amazement about the amount of travel he endured in recent times.
Starting July 4, Thomas outlined his travels that took him from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Detroit to Edinburgh for the Scottish Open; from Edinburgh to London for The Open on July 11; from London to West Palm Beach on July 18; from West Palm Beach to Atlanta to Tokyo on July 24; and from Tokyo to Memphis on Monday.
Yes, 23,587 miles.
“After seeing that post [from Thomas] and seeing how many miles we’ve gone across the world, it’s a lot,” said Collin Morikawa, who played the Scottish Open the week prior to winning The Open in England.
“I’ve done the exact same schedule, and it’s tough. But this is what we do. This is our job. Even though we do love it so much, it takes a toll on your body. I think I’ve done a great job throughout the Scottish, The Open, week off to get as much rest as I can.”
Morikawa won The Open for his second major title and then finished in a tie for fourth at the Olympics, losing out on a bronze medal in a playoff.
Even without the Olympics, this is already a crammed schedule. With The Open, a World Golf Championship event and three FedEx Cup playoff events, it already made for five big events in eight weeks. Throw in the Olympics and it is six.
Add the U.S. Open four weeks before The Open, plus the fact that most players competed at least once in between, and it has been a busy summer amid some severe heat — with the exception of The Open, which still was played in warmer-than-normal weather for England.
While a WGC is a big tournament, there is at least a more relaxed vibe. Players don’t have to worry about missing a cut. Everyone gets paid. Still, few are in the mindset of just showing up. They want to compete.
“Normally, when I come back from Asia, I feel absolutely drained. I feel dead,” Morikawa said. “But so far, knock on wood, I’ve slept great, even coming back from Tokyo. But I think it’s because I know I’m here to win.”
Morikawa has already had a great year (a WGC victory and a major win), so he might be excused if he were willing to coast this week and try to get recharged for the playoffs.
For others, this is an opportunity to go on a run and perhaps find some positives after some struggles.
Neither Dustin Johnson nor Brooks Koepka competed in the Olympics after opting not to play. Neither is satisfied with a year that came and went without a major title. Johnson has been on a perplexing run, missing the cut at the Masters and PGA Championship. He has not been a solid contender anywhere for six months.
Koepka has had his moments, with high finishes at the PGA, U.S. Open and The Open but still missing something that might have given him a fifth major.
Rory McIlroy has spent a good part of the year looking to find the form that saw him drop from No. 1 in the world a year ago to 15th. He did win the Wells Fargo Championship in May, but there have been more frustrations than triumphs.
“I think the Olympics was a big week for me because I played with more freedom there, and that obviously panned out well,” said McIlroy, who settled for a tie for fourth after falling out of a playoff for the bronze. “I played my best tournament I’ve played since the U.S. Open, which was good. So that’s the focus for me over these next few weeks is play with as much freedom as possible. That’s really it.”
McIlory, too, has had a hectic travel schedule, playing in Scotland, England and Japan. Then he headed home to South Florida for a day before flying back to Memphis on Tuesday night.
“I feel like I’m sort of used to it,” said McIlroy, 32, who has been a pro for 13 years. “Obviously, the last year and a half we haven’t traveled that much because of COVID and international events. But it’s fine. The only thing is just trying to get over the jet lag and going across the [international] date line and coming back again. That’s probably the most difficult thing.
“In terms of distance traveled, whether you spend five hours on a plane or 14 or whatever, it’s all the same at the end of the day. As long as you get enough rest.”
Which, of course, is the key. There always seems to be a reckoning of sorts when it comes to recovery from such a hectic stretch. And there’s not much time, with another three-week stretch looming for the FedEx Cup playoffs.