UN­DER­COVER TOUR PRO

Ev­ery WD screws somebody

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - With Max Adler

Are there ul­te­rior mo­tives when a player with­draws on the PGA Tour?

Fans might be sur­prised how busi­nesslike the vibe is on the PGA Tour. Guys with fam­i­lies rent homes and leave the course like it’s the of­fice. A lot of sin­gle guys go to din­ner almost ex­clu­sively with their coach, cad­die or agent. Each player is like the CEO of his small company. You’ll hear some vet­er­ans talk about the lost fra­ter­nity of the old days, when ev­ery­one was fly­ing com­mer­cial and stay­ing in the same ho­tel.

Of course, there are still strong friend­ships and fun groups. You tend to be clos­est with the play­ers who were rook­ies when you were a rookie. And as in any world that cre­ates good friends, there are also en­e­mies. One way this comes up is through the messy me­chan­ics of with­drawals.

The dead­line to WD is 5pm the Fri­day be­fore the week of the tour­na­ment. Any­time after, and you must present a note, signed by a doc­tor if the na­ture is med­i­cal, ex­plain­ing what de­vel­op­ment pre­vented you from hon­our­ing your com­mit­ment to lo­cal fans and tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers. Nev­er­the­less, ev­ery week play­ers drop out.

What can get con­tro­ver­sial is when a player WDs on his front nine on Thurs­day. An al­ter­nate can’t take the place of a player who has struck a shot in the com­pe­ti­tion. Chances are the player has a le­git­i­mate in­jury that sud­denly flares. He thought his back would be good to go, but it’s 48 de­grees out and the prospect of longterm dam­age feels a heck of a lot more cer­tain than it did on the mas­sage ta­ble last night. But the player who was next on the al­ter­nate list might not buy that.

It’s very rare, but more than once a player has teed it up for a hole or two fully in­tent on WDing be­cause he didn’t like who was next on the al­ter­nate list. That’s about as heinous a thing as you can do out here. There’s just so much at stake. In 2013 Derek Ernst won his first PGA Tour event after be­gin­ning the week as fourth al­ter­nate. That changed the tra­jec­tory of his year and ca­reer be­cause he was look­ing at pos­si­bly no sta­tus in 2014.

It has gone the other way, too. If your best friend is the first al­ter­nate, maybe that makes a re­cent surgery feel that much more ten­der. When Mark Brooks’ with­drawal at the 2013 PGA Cham­pi­onship opened a spot for his bud JJ Henry, there was mut­ter­ing that it looked cosy. But I can’t say it wasn’t just hap­pen­stance, as the two said.

Mar­quee play­ers get scru­ti­nised be­cause their with­drawals can hurt the num­ber of fans who buy tick­ets or watch on TV. Bubba Wat­son’s WD after an open­ing-round 83 looked to some more like “bo­geyi­tis” than al­ler­gies. Rory McIlroy ad­mit­ted wis­dom-tooth pain wasn’t an ad­e­quate rea­son for his WD after a few wa­ter balls. Phil Mick­el­son was pretty di­rect when he WD’d after two rounds at the BMW Cham­pi­onship. He was plain tired. That stuck it to com­mis­sioner Tim Finchem for sched­ul­ing four straight FedEx Cup events be­fore the Ry­der Cup.

I tell rook­ies that if you’re third or fourth al­ter­nate, it’s worth the cost of trav­el­ling to the tour­na­ment. You don’t want to be scram­bling to get on a red-eye flight. There are def­i­nitely guys each week who show up, work with a trainer, see how they’re hit­ting it, then make the decision on whether to play, es­pe­cially if they’ve got a limited num­ber of med­i­cal-ex­emp­tion starts.

Other than that, be cor­dial. Never give any­one a rea­son to stab you in the back. –

Play­ers have played a hole or two and WD’d be­cause they didn’t like the next al­ter­nate.

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