When Dustin Johnson promptly withdrew from the Shell Houston Open following his first-round 80 -- which featured three doubles, two bogeys and an 8 on a par 4 -- it seemingly added more evidence to a recent theory that pros are withdrawing from tournaments more often now simply because they are playing poorly.
That, at least, was the thought following Dustin's WD in Houston, and Bubba Watson's WD at Bay Hill and even Tiger Woods' WD at Honda (before the full extent of his back injury became known). Jason Sobel captured the growing notion in a recent column, reporting that one anonymous called the growing trend an "epidemic."
There's obviously no way for us to measure what a player is thinking in the precise moment he decides to withdraw, but what we can measure is how many players actually withdrew each season -- so that's what we did. We tabulated every WD on the PGA Tour since 2007 (the FedEx Cup era) and found something interesting.
It turns out fewer players are actually withdrawing from tournaments today than in previous years.
There are two ways to look at it, but they each wield the same results. The first is by counting WDs from a tournament before a pro has actually hit a shot. Jason Day pulling out of the WGC Cadillac Championship a few days before with a thumb injury, for example. So far this season there have been 45 of these instances in 22 events. At this rate, by the end of the 2013-14 season, 94 players will withdraw from tournaments, which is actually the third lowest total in the last eight years.
It's worth noting that because of the scheduling changes in 2013 that decreased the number events played that season, the dip in the number of WDs in 2013 is exaggerated. Overall, though, the number of WDs on tour is still trending down.
The other method is by looking at how many players have withdrawn from tournaments after hitting at least one shot. Dustin Johnson at the Shell Houston Open, who actually finished his first round, is an example of this. In the 22 events played so far in the 2013-14 season, there have been 41 of these WDs. Extrapolate that number out, and it's still falling relative to previous years. At the current rate, this season would have the fourth highest number of in-round WDs.
So is withdrawing the newest form of quitting? Maybe. Or maybe it's just been like that all long.