News & Opinion

Thomas runs risk of Spieth-like fatigue

It’s quite well known that Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are extraordinarily close friends. It’s not as clear whether they offer advice to each other and, if they do, whether it’s taken.

That would appear to be the case at the moment. Thomas, fresh off a PGA Championship, FedEx Cup playoffs and ultimately the season champion, plus a victorious and impressive Presidents Cup, finds himself in Asia for the second week in a row – and maybe a third – without much time to catch his breath.

He’s at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in South Korea this week, where he shot a first-round 63 to take the lead. That, after conceding that he was fatigued, according to Frank Nobilo on Golf Channel.

Thomas played in last week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia, finishing in a tie for 17th. And it’s unclear whether he will play in next week’s WGC HSBC Champions in China, a tournament that he played a year ago. The PGA Tour doesn’t release the list of players in the field until after 5 p.m. Eastern Time on the Friday before the event.

Just saying all that would make you tired. Why would he take this on after such a hectic schedule at the end of the PGA Tour season? He’s playing in his eighth event in 12 weeks – nine in 13 weeks, if he plays next week.

Surely, he’s not doing it for the money. He just picked up $10 million for winning the FedEx Cup. He was expected at the CIMB Classic, because he has won that event in each of the past two years. But playing in the other events boggles the mind, particularly given what such a schedule did to Spieth in 2015.

After winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup at the end of that season, Spieth played in the Presidents Cup before he took off around the world. He had won five events in 2015, including the Masters and U.S. Open. Yet, he was compelled to travel overseas.

He played in the WGC HSBC Champions in Asia in November and then in Australia, where he tied for second at the Australian Open. He came back and placed fourth in Tiger Woods’ tournament, the Hero World Challenge, in December. In January, he traveled to the Middle East and tied for fifth in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Before the HSBC Champions, Spieth had played seven events in 10 weeks. At Abu Dhabi, he conceded that he had made a mistake.

“It won’t be something I’ll do in the future, to bounce back and forth from Asia as much as we did, or Australia,” Spieth said after the final round. “I’m very tired. As a team, we’re beat up mentally and physically. I’m not 100 percent right now. It shows in certain places.”

Spieth’s 2016 season suffered as a result. Although he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in January, his best finish before the Masters in April was a tie for ninth – he made it to the round of 16 – in the WGC Match Play. Other than that, he was no better than a tie for 13th.

It’s difficult to say that Spieth had an off year after his mammoth 2015. He won twice in 2016 and had a great chance to win the Masters. And he was only 23 at the time. Young enough, you’d expect, to be able to take on the rigors of ’round-the-world travel and easily bounce back from the dreaded jet lag.

Besides going to Australia for the Australian Open – he won last year – Spieth has been as good as his word. He won three times this year, including the British Open, and was fresh enough to withstand the end-of-the-season rush.

Here’s where the heart-to-heart talk with a close friend comes in. Did Spieth warn Thomas of the dangers of being over-traveled and over-played at the end of the year? And if they had that conversation, did Thomas ignore the warning?

Thomas had nothing short of a remarkable year in 2017. He won five times, including his first major championship at the PGA, and was named the Tour’s player of the year.

Will he be able to bounce back in 2018 from that exhausting travel? He won’t take a ton of time off because he’s expected to play in the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii, both of which he won in 2017.

If he does learn a lesson, he will have done it the hard way.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf