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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ready or Not...Here I Come

On January 29, 2013, I began a new journey.  This journey changed my life in so many ways.  It is far from complete but today, October 7, 2013, my journey begins a new chapter.

252 days ago, this journey began with the sound of my wife’s voice in the background.  I opened my dazed and sleepy eyes to find myself in the recovery room at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.  Her kind voice and smiling face that greeted me were a welcomed sight after almost six hours of major hip surgery.   World-renowned surgeon, Dr. Marc Phillipon, repaired the train wreck that was once known as my left hip.  He fixed FIVE problems in and around my hip socket, which in return gave me hope that one-day pain free golf was possible.

So 252 days ago, I began preparing for today.  For 252 straight days, my phone buzzed and beeped with a daily reminder and countdown targeting today’s date, October 7, 2013.  I couldn’t help but smile this morning when I received my daily reminder.  It simply said…0.  Today, I make my return to the PGA Tour.  Today, I get to walk inside the ropes again.  Today, I am back!

So what took me so long?  Well, my original plan was to return to golf by way of the Tour a month or so ago.  Through my medical exemption with the PGA Tour, I was allowed “rehab starts” on the Tour.   Everything was on schedule until I pushed myself too far and strained my hip flexor working out.  My recovery status went from around 90% at the time to a devastating 50-55%.  Rather then pout about it, I rallied the troops and began working even harder to get healthy. Would it have been nice to “test” out my hip before my return to the Tour? Sure…but things didn’t work out that way.  So here I am, tournament rusty but blessed to have the opportunity to compete in my first tournament since January.  And how do I feel?  In all honesty, I am about 85%.  I am still having a couple of issues but nothing major.  Over the last week or so, some have questioned my decision to return at 85%.  I quickly reminded them that 85% is 85% better than WHAT I WAS!!

“New” will definitely be the theme this week as I compete in the just outside of San Jose, California.  My “new” hip will join my “new” caddy as I compete in the first tournament of the 2014 season on the PGA Tour.  Longtime friend and Georgia native, David Robinson, will walk alongside me this year.  Believe me when I say this…David will be a game changer for my career.  He is, without a doubt, one of the best putters that I have ever seen (easily in my top five of all-time).  He was an All-American in college and played professionally for many years.  He is a great guy, a tremendous competitor, and an even better friend.  I am very blessed to have him alongside me and on my team this year.

To be honest, I am amazed at the timing of how everything worked out in regards to the hiring of David and my previous caddy Barry.  When I decided to have surgery back in January, I promised Barry that I would help him find work while I was gone.  Well, I didn’t have to look very far.  My best friend on Tour, Boo Weekley, had been struggling a bit with his caddy situation, which in return was affecting his golf game.  Barry seemed like a perfect fit and, to give Boo credit, he didn’t think twice about his decision to hire him.  The two began working together at the Honda Classic in February and as the weeks progressed, Boo’s game began to improve.  In fact, after only two weeks of working together, they rallied on Sunday to almost win the Transitions Championship in Tampa.  I was happy for their success and I immediately called Boo and gave him my blessing to keep Barry on his team.  This was the right thing to do and even though Boo was reluctant, I knew he would eventually agree to my offer.  Now don’t get me wrong…Boo wanted to keep Barry but he didn’t feel “right about it” because in his mind, he was only borrowing Barry until I returned from surgery.  It wasn’t until I met with Boo face-to-face three weeks later at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head that he agreed to my offer.  Barry was a great caddy for me but I knew that he would be a difference maker for Boo.  To be quite honest, I think Boo knew that as well.  He thanked me over and over again and from that day forward, Boo was a completely different player.  He immediately played well and a few weeks later, he teamed up with Barry to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational at the Colonial in Texas.  I couldn’t have been more proud for both of them and the rest is history.

I will also be introducing some new equipment this week, as well.  A “new” TaylorMade SLDR driver will be in the bag as well as some “new” iron shafts from Aldila.  I may also pull the trigger on a “new” club for the first time in over twelve years.  For several months now, I have been practicing with a short putter.  Since 2001, the belly putter (style where the putter touches a player’s body) has been a fixture in my bag thanks in large part to a bad back.  With my back feeling better, I have worked hard to put the short putter back in play.  We will see if it makes the lineup come Thursday.

As excited as I am to return to my life as a professional golfer on the PGA Tour, I am a thousand times more heartbroken that I had to leave my family behind.  For the first time in my life, I have been an at home, full time daddy and husband.  And for those of you that experience this title day in and day out, year after year…God Bless ya!  What an amazing experience.  Eight months of daddy and husband duties were a dream come true.  I am blessed beyond words and I am grateful that I was able to spend this time with my family.
But now it is time to go back to work and provide for my family.  My journey back to the PGA Tour has been long and extremely humbling.  I am ready to compete.  I am ready to win.  We will see what happens.  Whether I hoist a trophy on Sunday or miss the cut, a pain free tournament will be a WIN in my book!

Thank you all for the continued support.  It means more than you will ever know!