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June 27, 2020

Podcast No. 80: Pro Golfer Nick Watney on How WHOOP Warned Him of COVID-19

Pro golfer Nick Watney, the first player on the PGA Tour to be diagnosed with COVID-19, details how his WHOOP data led him to getting tested for the virus.

By Will Ahmed

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Nick shares how he became alarmed by a sudden rise in his respiratory rate and how he experienced no other symptoms that would have alerted him to the presence of the virus.

By paying attention to his data, Nick did his part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others on Tour. We’re proud to have him on WHOOP and thank him for his quick action to protect those around him.

Nick Watney Podcast Show Notes:

3:28 – An Update on Nick’s Health. “I feel fine. Apparently I got a pretty mild strain or the effects have been mild, so that’s good I guess. I also want to mitigate any risk I am towards anybody else.”

4:07 – Tournament Week at the RBC Heritage. Nick details the events leading up to his positive test before the second round of the tournament.

6:05 – A First Indication. “Friday I woke up and felt better than I did Thursday afternoon. I was a bit sluggish Thursday. I thought it was just because I had woken up so early [for a 6:56 a.m. tee time Thursday]. But I woke up feeling okay and I checked the [WHOOP] data and my respiratory rate had gone up. I’m usually in the low 14s [and it had gone up] to the low 18s,” Nick says (see screenshot below). Will notes that Nick’s respiratory rate has been remarkably consistent over the last year. “It barely moves,” Will says. “And all of a sudden you’re above 18 [breaths per minute].”

Pro golfer Nick Watney's respiratory rate, tracked in the WHOOP app, prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

 

7:21 – Immediate Concern. “I took a screenshot of the [WHOOP data] and sent it to my wife and said ‘This is very alarming,’ just because I had read [an email from WHOOP] when [WHOOP] had analyzed data from users that had come down with COVID. It was something that jumped out.”

9:22 – Clarifying False Reports. “There’s been reports that I was symptomatic. I wasn’t really symptomatic besides this WHOOP data. They put me through a thermal scanner and also took my temperature with a thermometer. Both were normal. No cough. No shortness of breath. My respiratory rate was up but I didn’t wake up panting or anything. I wouldn’t have known [about my respiratory rate] if I hadn’t seen the data.”

9:59 – Testing Positive. “They administered the test and then I spoke with the Tour doctor. He said, ‘Given that you tested negative [two days prior] and you don’t have these symptoms flashing red, so to speak, you can go warm up.’ … I went to the golf course, social distanced while warming up, and got a call about 20 minutes before [my round] that said ‘Your test came back positive. You need to go. You need to leave as soon as you can.’ I said to the doctor, ‘Is this real? I know I saw the data, but…’ He said, ‘This is real. You need to go.’”

11:00 – First Reaction. “It was very scary. Especially at that time because I wasn’t feeling bad. [My mindset] switched to ‘Let’s stay as far away from people as I can.’ It seems like this thing can spread so quickly. I just wanted to get out of there. I have a great deal of respect for my peers. … I just think it’s the right thing to do to protect people if you can.”

12:15 – The Impact of WHOOP. “It really is amazing. People have asked me, ‘If you had no symptoms, why did you get tested?’ It’s because of the WHOOP data.”

13:30 – WHOOP on Tour. Will and Nick discuss the PGA’s procurement of 1,000 WHOOP straps to help keep all players, caddies, and tournament staff safe while play continues. “I think it’s super cool,” Nick says. “I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard you guys talk about this with Kristen [Holmes, WHOOP VP of Performance] in her [WHOOP Podcast episode] The Science of Winning. Data is power. Being able to collect it and analyze it, that’s how you improve. I think it’s great for the Tour to [outfit everyone with WHOOP], obviously to mitigate risk which is first and foremost at this point, but people can also really learn a lot on the backend.”

15:52 – Sharing His Story. “My wife and I have been talking about this: Is there a silver lining in this? Can something good come out of this? It was a bit scary, but if people can learn more and this helps anybody else that can be a good thing, obviously.”

21:31 – What Nick Has Learned From WHOOP. “You can’t really fool [WHOOP]. If my kids had a rough night and I slept 4.5 hours, I don’t get a lot of green recoveries when that happens. There haven’t been many days when it gives me 90 [percent recovery] and I feel rundown. It’s like an all-telling thing in certain ways. It’s tough to fool this little thing.”

22:25 – Recapping the Week That Was. “I played Thursday and had a very early wake up. I felt a bit tired and run down that afternoon, but I didn’t think too much of it because I woke up so early and as far as the virus goes I had tested negative two days before. I didn’t really pay too much mind to that. When I woke up Friday and saw the respiratory rate data it set off an alarm because I had read the [WHOOP] emails saying exactly that. It says in the [WHOOP] app ‘Don’t expect much change, a significant increase [in respiratory rate] could be meaningful. That is literally the reason why [I got tested], because I didn’t feel badly in terms of anything. I didn’t feel very rundown, I didn’t feel hot, I didn’t have a cough, I didn’t have shortness of breath, none of that. [WHOOP is] the reason I got another test.”

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance. WHOOP today works with everyone from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to executives. Ahmed has raised nearly $100 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, and designers. He wrote “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Fitness, Intensity, and Recovery,” which sparked the underlying physiology and engineering for his work today. Ahmed was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. He was also recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.

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