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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Why COVID-19 May Actually Help Some Players

I know, it's a strange thought. But during the first round of THE PLAYERS on Thursday there was some talk about how hard it is to 'find something' at this time of the season, during the run to the majors. And that got me to thinking...

Jordan Spieth

At this point we're facing at least five weeks without golf -- that's the four weeks cancelled by the PGA Tour plus the postponement of the Masters. That's five weeks when players are not only free of the obsessive drive to play well in majors, but they're also free of the continuous scrutiny that comes from working on swing changes while under the televised glare of the fans.

Five weeks is longer than most of these players take as an off-season, so the potential to deal with the problems in their games without the pressure to perform might be an unexpected blessing.

I've identified at least five players who could come out of this enforced layoff stronger than before.
  • At the top of my list is Jordan Spieth. The Golden Boy's struggles have been endlessly documented and debated over the last couple of years; I think an unplanned break like this one could provide the privacy he needs to collect his thoughts and simply make changes without the need to waste needed practice time traveling to yet another public dissection of his problems.
  • Close behind him is Rickie Fowler, plagued by the one unexpected big number that ruins an otherwise commendable round. There have been so many changes in his life over the last few months that he has a number of things to deal with... and ironically, if the speculations are correct, COVID-19 might finally allow him to get over the sickness that has plagued him since just before the Hero Challenge.
  • Not struggling as much but still off his regular form, Justin Thomas has also struggled with an unusual number of wild shots that seem to come from nowhere during his rounds. A chance to take a spring break of sorts, with no important events demanding he show up in order to remain high in the rankings, could serve as a breather in which to slow down and regain his normal rhythm.
  • Are you surprised to see Brooks Koepka on my list? His knee injury has clearly had an effect on his mental game as much as it did on his physical wellbeing. A few weeks during which he can rebuild his confidence without putting undue pressure on his game could pay big dividends later this year. Especially in the majors.
  • Finally -- and perhaps surprisingly to many of you -- I would add Rory McIlroy to this list. After seven Top5 finishes all would seem well with his game, and I would agree... as long as you're talking about his technique. We all know that Rory has been aiming toward Augusta, and I can't help but feel that his failure to close out more tournaments lately is the result of trying too hard. I think that having the certainty of a date for the Masters ripped away from him, as it was on Friday, may let him get back into the mindset of focusing only on the event at hand, rather than the one that has been eluding him for so long.
Under no circumstances am I saying that the COVID-19 virus is a good thing nor am I making light of the pandemic we're facing. But history has proven that, as we rise to deal with such evils, sometimes even the worst situations provide us with unexpected benefits somewhere down the road.

Perhaps we've all taken too much for granted, and a heavy dose of reality -- painful as it is going to be -- is something we need. Life is precious and far more important than any game. And once this pandemic is past and we remember what's really important, we just may find the game itself more enjoyable.

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