The Presidents Cup: The Dead Legs Syndrome

The Presidents Cup was won by the U.S. team over the International team, 18½ to 15½. What began as one overwhelmingly powerful team against a rag-tag collection of globe trotters, eventually turned into a compelling finish on Sunday that affirmed that golf around the globe is in good hands.

To be sure, the world rankings of the players don’t bear this out and was probably responsible for the dismissive attitudes of most observers, “Well, looks like the Internationals are going to get it again.” And after Sunday morning’s foursomes continuation left the U.S. with a virtually insurmountable lead of six points, it certainly looked that way. 

But the world rankings are based on strengths of fields around the globe and there aren’t as many top-level players elsewhere as the U.S. has on its tour. But there are many. Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizeen, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Ernie Els are prime examples of the best-of-the-best. And after their breakout performances this week, add Graham DeLaet from Canada (playing in the U.S.) and Hideki Matsuyama from Japan as new arrivals to the fold. The ball striking of these latter two was truly impressive.

Which brings me to the subject of this post, tired legs. Everything was fine for the players until they ran into Friday’s rain delays. It had rained hard on Thursday, but there was only a slight chance of rain on Friday. So the tee times were set for their normal noontime starts. It poured and led to a 2½ hour delay which ran into darkness and left four of the Foursome matches to be finished Saturday morning.

The problem with that was that Saturday was filled to the brim with both Four-ball and Foursomes matches. True, it was only ten-man teams instead of all twelve, but some ended up playing in all three segments: (1) finishing up Friday’s matches, (2) Saturday’s Four-ball and (3) Saturday’s Foursomes. And four of the Foursomes matches weren’t able to beat darkness, so they had to resume Sunday morning with the second early bird routine in two days.

The consequence of that is that while there might have been some sleep, there wasn’t quality rest. There wasn’t luxuriant, restful sleep. There was, instead, a metabolism-increasing press to get to bed and to sleep and a night full of subliminal concern about the trustworthiness of the alarm clock and the hour it would go off. Very subtle, but there. John Cook talked about this on one of the Golf Channel segments on “Live From the Presidents Cup.”

Add to all of that that for as well as the Muirfield Village Golf Club drained, it was still very wet and very hilly. Wet, hilly golf courses are marginally harder to walk, but they still take their toll. It’s like driving with your parking brake partially engaged. And then add to that the practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. It made for a long week. And it makes your legs go dead.

We saw that later in Sunday’s Singles matches. Brendon de Jonge hit such a wicked snap hook into the trees on 15 that a shot later he conceded the match to Jason Dufner in the middle of the fairway. On 14, we saw Phil Mickelson hit a hook high up on the hillside and behind a menacing tree; the broad fairway was so wide, standing on the tee, you’d wonder how you could ever miss it. And then there were all of the players who faded their tee shots into the pond on the par-3 12th. It was almost like a parade.

It was an abject lesson in the importance of the legs in the golf swing. The legs are like a suspension system for the core and arms that appear to be doing all of the work. The reason Tour player’s swings look so fluid and languid is that their entire body is engaged in flinging that club into the ball.

But if the legs go dead, the upper body has to compensate somehow — usually with miss-timed arms or flipping hands — throwing the blended motion out of synch. You would never imagine that you would have to play in excess of 40 holes in one day, but some of the guys did on Saturday.

So the next time you’re in the gym slaving away at all of that upper body work, throw the legs a bone. Get some leg presses in there or some steep treadmill work. And compensating stretches. You may only very rarely play 36, but you’ll have confidence that you can. And just think how much stronger you’ll be at the end of 18.

Might even make you want to go for that 36.

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