As they age, Champions Tour golfers try not to unravel during travel
The last time PGA Tour Champions players gathered for a standard 54-hole tournament was six weeks ago at the American Family Insurance Championship outside Madison, a four-hour drive from the Twin Cities or a quick up-and-down flight.
In those six weeks, players have logged more than 9,500 travel miles to get to and from three 72-hole major championships held in Colorado Springs, suburban Chicago and Scotland.
Thirty-three players in this week’s field of 78 touched down for the 3M Championship only days after the Senior British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“I’ve gotten two good days of sleep,” Gene Sauers said. “It can be brutal.”
Travel is hardly a new concept to the life of a professional athlete. For golfers, competing on some of the best courses in the world isn’t exactly a punishment. But enduring three of the season’s biggest events in a six-week stretch with a pair of transatlantic flights thrown into the mix is enough to test even the steeliest of nerves.
And that’s if everything goes smoothly.
More than a few players encountered delays and canceled flights trying to get out of the East Coast two weeks ago during a stormy stretch of weather. Sauers, who lost the 3M title to Paul Goydos in a playoff last year, was delayed twice traveling from Savannah, Ga., and ultimately had to connect through Amsterdam en route to Edinburgh — a two-hour flight.
An airline lost Glen Day’s golf clubs for several days. Mark Calcavecchia posted on social media Monday it took him 21 hours to return to the United States, calling it a “semi-miracle” he and his wife arrived home to Florida with all their luggage.
Calcavecchia withdrew from the 3M on Tuesday. Most of the tour’s top players this year elected to not enter the 3M altogether. Tim Petrovic, 51, and Joe Durant, 54, are the only players in the top 10 of the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points race in the 3M Championship.
“It gets tougher as you get older, I’ve noticed that,” said 58-year-old Corey Pavin. “At least coming back you gain six hours — almost like you’re gaining a day. You just try to go to sleep when you’re supposed to sleep, eat when you’re supposed to eat, and hopefully you don’t wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning.”
The effects hit everyone differently.
Marco Dawson, the 2015 Senior Open champion who finished tied for sixth last week, played in a pro-am Tuesday with no ill effects. By Wednesday afternoon, Dawson said he felt dizzy while warming up.
“I’m just dragging, almost like I just got off the plane,” said Dawson, 54. “Good thing this tournament doesn’t start until Friday. This is one of the toughest [travel schedules] we have. [The week after a major] can suffer some.”
Pavin did not have a tee time in Wednesday’s pro-am but didn’t take an off day. He spent several hours bashing balls on the range, refilling his practice bucket again and again.
“It helps you get back into that rhythm,” he said.
Sauers, 55, concurred. He arrived from Scotland on Monday evening but said he wouldn’t hit a shot on the golf course until Thursday.
Practice was his only plan.
“We get used to the routine of packing, unpacking, talking to travel reps, and it wears on you a little bit, for sure,” he said. “The feel gets away from you. I’m not driving through the ball like I should and I know it. I can feel it. That’s what all this is for.”
The tour takes next week off before another long stretch, with tournaments three consecutive weeks in south-central New York, the Seattle area and Calgary.
“I think I’ll do this another five, six, maybe eight years,” Sauers said. “Then it’s time to relax.”