Germs on Tour

Germ Risks of Touring

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Not only are the PGA and LPGA Tours much longer than they used to be, creating the need to think about pacing oneself from week to week, but they go to a lot more exotic places than they used to. Since it’s the Earth, and the human race we’re dealing with in all those places, it doesn’t occur to us that on any given week, we are suddenly plunged into a new germ culture. Every country has bugs, but around the world the microbial résumés are different, and we’re not ready for all of them.

Rory McIlroy has announced his withdrawal from the tournament in China this week, after eating a bad sandwich and getting food poisoning for his efforts. I’ve had food poisoning twice in my life, and they are the only two times I can think of that I didn’t want to live. I don’t tour as a golfer, but I’ve worked throughout Europe, including Britain and Ireland, Greece, Ukraine, Russia and so on. I’ved lived in Italy. I got sick in absolutely every one of those countries after months and years of avoiding it at home – except, ironically, in Ireland. I chow down like a T-Rex whenever I’m in Ireland. Nothing bad ever happens in Ireland these days – nothing could. It’s perfect. Sorry, Rory. Canada and the US were exceptions to the inevitability of getting sick, because the North American germs studied at the same universities, and were on my list of “Oh yeah, I know that one.” In some countries, I had to boil the water. Explaining to the natives that the bugs are different without insulting them is a real trick. In Italy, I got sick from some of the best food I’ve ever tasted – not fair.
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sick 2So what do these golfers do, try to recreate their home environment wherever they go? Can they risk sampling all the food, breathing all the air, and drinking all the water with a tee time at 6 am the following morning? Not only are they facing a new microbial foe everywhere they go, but they’re doing it with jet lag, general exhaustion, and an immune system that has devoted itself to four days of peak performance, not against some mean-spirited guest hiding out in a sandwich or a lobster.

Decades ago, when the tour ended, it ended, and we all looked forward to the first tournament of the next year. Now, it never really ends. The absence of relaxation is not only beginning to take its toll, but the biggest part of it that’s missing is the sort of relaxation you get at home, the best kind. Some golfers like to hunt or fish in the autumn and early winter. With the schedule today, a lot of that gets cut out. I worship at the First Church of College Football on Saturdays, and am such a fanatic that I won’t even accept a professional engagement if it means missing the Oregon game. Regardless, those hitherto unknown germs are out there waiting, knowing that you, the pro player, are anxious, intense, and looking for four consecutive 62s. It’s your livelihood, and you’ve got to win something to stay in it.
Socializing in foreign countries when you’re trying to work is equally deadly. Banquets, home-cooked meals, complete with borsht or cream shrimp sandwiches can kill you. There are some countries where it’s an insult not to toast almost everything that’s said, and tea won’t do – it’s vodka or nothing. Try shooting a 62 after an evening of that. And what about jet lag? Ever played golf at two in the morning…for money?

I certainly feel bad for Rory. He walked right into that little germ’s trap – they love hanging out in sandwiches. Taking care of yourself is a new ball game on the modern tour, and it goes to the survival of the fittest.

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