Managing end-of-season fatigue is a balancing act on the LPGA Tour
NAPLES, Fla. — The season finale on any pro tour is simultaneously the moment where golfers feel the most fatigue and the most adrenaline. Adrenaline because it's the last event of the year, and in the case of the women on the LPGA Tour, they are playing for a record-setting $1.5 million winner's check at the CME Group Tour Championship. Fatigue because it's been a season of 33 events all over the world, with the four events preceding the CME each taking place in Asia.
So, how exactly do LPGA players manage fatigue at the end of the season? The strategies are varied.
Lizette Salas says it starts at the beginning of the season, when she's building her schedule.
"I took two weeks off after Asia to give myself time to get over my jet lag so I can feel fresh and excited and ready to play," Salas said. "It’s about knowing your body and knowing when you’re able to peak. Some girls have to play the week before a major in order to get in that mindset. But at the end of the year, you have to manage and save your energy. Planning out the end of the season really helps."
It sounds simple, but figuring out the right playing schedule can take years for players to perfect. It's nearly impossible for rookies to get it right on their first try.
Cheyenne Knight, a first-year LPGA player who won the Volunteers of America Classic in October, has found the balance of how much to work out while playing a full LPGA Tour schedule difficult to navigate. Knight struggles with hip and back tightness, and uses the off season to do strength work that builds up the muscles in those areas to prevent issues throughout the season. But the off-season workout regimen is too heavy to be maintained throughout the year. How do you balance the need to do strength to keep fatigue at a minimum with the inherit physical fatigue that sets in after doing strength workouts?
"In college, we did a lot of running and stuff," said Knight, who played for the University of Alabama. "But it’s hard to balance how hard you work out when you have a tournament the next day. In college, tournaments were more spaced out, so you could work out and be sore and not worry about it. Out here with so many events, I don’t know yet how much my body can handle.
"Lots of girls have physios and I might do that next year because I‘ve never played this much golf before," Knight added.
The balance of working out enough without working out too much was consistently brought up by players. Lydia Ko says she loves running, but backs off the cardio as she gets closer to the end of the season to keep her energy high. That goes for the amount that players practice, too.
"I limit practice to quality, making sure you're doing the right thing, not being out there just for the sake of filing in hours," Ko said. "Just chilling is really important to manage your condition. If you’re feeling great, then you can go out there."
Social media has made it harder for players to convince themselves to take an afternoon off when feeling fatigue. It's bad enough to feel like you should be working on your game, but then to see another player post her afternoon workout on Instagram while you're resting, it can become maddening.
"It’s hard because you can see other players out practicing, and you can see someone post something in the gym and you feel like you should be doing that," Morgan Pressel said. "But everybody has to do what feels right for them. It’s OK to take time to rest and recover. It’s something I need more as I get older, too. I’m more comfortable knowing when I need time to let my body and mind recover, and know that it might be different from somebody else, and accepting that. If you go practice or work out and you’re not accomplishing anything, it’s not worth it."
When players are able to convince themselves to rest, the activities they fill that newfound time with vary. Jin Young Ko, the 2019 LPGA player of the year, said she often plays a Korean card game.
"I binge watch on Netflix or I do some yoga poses," Lydia Ko said. "I’ll read a book. I love to listen to music. When I’m home I don’t really leave my bed much. Which is kind of a nice change,"
Ko said she also got into doing Legos for a while. But, she said laughing, the age limits on the boxes started making her feel bad.
Adding a dog to the support team has made Pressel's recovery time easier and more enjoyable.
"She’s a good distraction. It’s been great traveling with her this season," Pressel said. "She makes me forget how I played. Good or bad her tail’s wagging no matter what."
As players begin their final rounds at Tiburon Golf Club, the time for fatigue is over. The greatest counter to fatigue is the adrenaline that comes with the opportunity to play well enough to win a life-changing amount of money.