Back in June of 2011, I wrote about Brandt Jobe, the guy who came back from severing two fingers on his left hand to finish T2 in Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.
He effected this comeback by changing from hitting a power fade to a draw. This because he had lost the feeling in his hand. And the way he did it was with pure, athleticism; he learned to time the release of the club. His story was so inspirational, it remains No. 10 on my All-Time Most Read Posts.
And then in 2012, he began having trouble making cuts and ultimately quietly faded out of the limelight. I found out why after Thursday’s first round in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
He finished 3rd, but with the first tee time of the day, it was cold and dark when he warmed up and not much more than dawn on the 1st tee. Wasn’t this hard on his back?
I don’t have a bad back but I have a bad everything else (laughs). For me, it’s hand problems. I’m on a medical [extension of his exemption] from a couple procedures I had done on my neck, so luckily my back’s fine. But more my hand after I had my hand injury, I don’t have the tips of my fingers, so that’s tough when it’s cold.
But it warmed up pretty quickly. Fortunately got the ball in the fairway the first few holes, so that’s kind of what you’re trying to do because it’s [dewy] and cold and the ball is not going anywhere. Made a couple good up-and-downs and kind of kept the round going.
Once we got to the fifth or sixth hole, warmed up pretty nicely and the ball started going a little bit.
But this was not just another round. It was his first one he played well in in seven months:
I’m still–let’s see, the last swing I took was July 1 at the AT&T, Tiger’s event. I basically didn’t touch a club until the first part of–about December 1, end of November. That was a good layoff, but I had to for the procedures that I had done.
So it’s kind of been hard to get back. The older I get, I’ve done this, this is I think my third time. So the older you get, the more you get away from the game, the tougher it gets, and got used to being home, too. [We forget that these guys don’t live at home, they just get to stop by from time to time.]
This is the first round I’ve played a solid round of golf. I saw some good things which makes me happy, which is what we are all trying to do. Round one accomplished. Let’s see what happens tomorrow, and it’s a good start to the week.
But all of that began with the medical procedures he had to get through and their consequences:
I did two nerve blocks, my C5/C6, and then took about five or six weeks in between both. A bunch of therapy; got on some machines, traction machines; I actually have one now that I travel with, and I found that that’s really helped.
Actually this last month and a half, I’ve felt normal, like there’s been no problem, because my hands, I couldn’t close my hands in July. That’s how bad it got. You know, playing that last round at Congressional, I couldn’t close my hands on the golf club to hold onto it. I knew there’s a problem.
So you have to research the problem and then you hear a lot of things that you can do. If you can get your disc replaced and doing some like that, but then what happens three or four years from now. For me, if I do that, I didn’t know what the future would be.
So I wanted to kind of go the easiest course, which you still go under 30 minutes or so, and you’re able to see a lot of pictures on what the problems are or aren’t. My disc looked all right, a few degenerative areas, but what was bad was my nerve canal; I was so inflamed. They are surprised that it didn’t hurt more than what it did.
So had to calm down and really get away from golf, get away from the computer, anything that locks you in that position, and have good posture; I’m working on it. Just little things that we work on every day. The body can only make so many golf swings, doing activities so many times until something falls apart, and what’s kind of what’s happened.
And all of this effects the way that he’s able to prepare for a round:
I’m on a ball count and I’ve stayed on it actually, because I have a tendency, warmup in the morning, I have to make my warmup just a good, brief warmup; so when I walk away, I don’t need to hit every ball that’s laying out there. But just accomplish what I’m trying to do, which is get warmed up.
If I finish and hit it well and everything, don’t hit a lot of golf balls, go chip and putt. If I need to hit them, take a bucket of balls or bag of balls whatever it is and try to get as much as you can out of that. I used to be a guy to go pound five or six or seven [bags] of them and enjoy it; it’s just not going to be an option anymore.
Looking back on what might have caused his neck problem, it wasn’t a swing that went hinky at the wrong time. It was a Little League baseball game:
Actually, I honestly believe about a year and a half ago, I had somebody–I had been sitting on some stands watching my son play baseball all day, eight hours. I woke up the next morning locked up. I had someone try to adjust me, that didn’t work and from then on, my neck has hurt.
And just for the last year or so out here, I actually had someone that was trying to help me and I was doing massages and all these–sports massage, not a nice massage, trying to just keep my body loose, and it didn’t work. You know, just kind of got to, “Okay, what’s your last resort.”
You can do these nerve blocks and if those don’t work, then your next thing is a big‑time surgery, and they don’t know how long that will last. That’s what Peyton Manning had done. I think Steve Stricker has looked at it. I think Davis Love has looked into it. There’s a few older guys that have had the same problem.
When it’s something as serious as this was and it could end your career with one wrong move, everything unfolds deliberately and slowly:
Right now for me, I’m trying to get back and trying to do good things. However that ends up the end of this week, if I keep improving and get better, then that’s what it is.
It’s the first round I’ve played, and that’s the way I look at it. I have to kind of take baby steps right now. Hopefully by May I can sit here and say, I’m playing good and I’m ready to go. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.
But he didn’t arrive at this course of treatment in one, command-decision moment. He spent a lot of time going down various paths of the labyrinth, always mindful that he has to be meticulously careful about what sorts of remedies he puts in his body:
Well, obviously there’s some things you can do to help yourself, there’s no doubt about it. Now, if you’re not playing golf and you do that, then I guess that’s not illegal, because it’s something prescribed by a doctor. But it’s obviously illegal to take those items while playing on the PGA Tour.
So there’s a fine line there. For me, that wasn’t really a route. I mean, I was looking for something to reduce swelling. And so anti‑inflammatories, a lot of those, and it didn’t work. You know, you do a steroid anti‑inflammatory, which is perfectly legal to do on the Tour, too; I tried that, that didn’t work.
The next answer was, which way to get this nerve block. People do it many different ways, and there’s some ways‑‑ I went and did it twice. One guy did it, you’re face down and they go in through your back in a catheter in your sleep and they try to sprinkle everything with magic dust and it’s supposed to feel better; and it did, it felt great for about three weeks, and I was right back to where I was.
So I went and saw someone else and tried a different way of doing it which is on your side, it’s very different. The doctor that’s prescribing this is actually a spine doctor for the Cowboys in Dallas.
So I’ve had enough experience with all these doctors and things, and my dad being a doctor, too, that I always ask them what they think and what their thoughts are, and if I don’t like it, I go ask somebody else. And if somebody gives you the answer that you want to hear, then you try it. And if that doesn’t work, you have to go backwards and go back to the answer you didn’t like.
I kind of took the first course. I tried not to have these shots, because you don’t even want to go down that path. It just became, if I was going to play golf, it wasn’t an option. It’s helped but I’ve got to be careful.
Later in the media room session, he mentioned that he did actually try to play at Torrey Pines, but apparently doesn’t count it because he missed the cut (74, 74) due to “equipment issues.” Presumably he meant that this is his first week back with all issues resolved. He explains the esoteric and arcane ways of setting up your clubs:
I did play in San Diego, I missed the cut. I did not play well. I had some equipment issues I had not really taken care of from the end of last year through this year. Actually these last couple weeks, I’ll give Art Sellinger a plug, the long drive guy. I actually went and worked with him on some shafts to try to understand what was going on with my driver, and brought him in a bunch of heads, TaylorMade heads, and he put a variety of shafts in my equipment and all of a sudden I saw the ball doing different things that I actually wanted it to do.
I have to give him a plug because if I had not done that, I would probably be the same mode of where I was, not hitting it well, wondering why.
The good news is that he’s past all of the pain; he doesn’t flinch when he swings anymore:
I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be, but my situation, obviously the medical [exemption], every round counts.
So this is a good start to the week, and you know, I mean, hey, I’d love to have a good week and get this [medical exemption] wrapped up in the beginning and be able to move on and have a normal life out here.
But the reality is, you’ve really got to take it one day at a time. I’ve been out here and played enough that it’s not the end of the world if you have a bad day, too.
And even though he plays in the “land of the flat bellies,” he was always a long player and still thinks of himself as competitive. Responding to a question about his swing speed:
I’m not sure exactly what it is. I’m probably somewhere, I can probably get it up to 120 if I want to. I still hit it, I’m probably still close to the Top‑20 in distance out here [he doesn’t have enough rounds to be included in the stats yet], which that’s kind of–my thing is hitting the ball in the fairway and hitting it pretty long. I have to take advantage of that.
Some of these kids now, like I played with Jason [Kokrak, No. 3 in Driving Distance] today, they bomb it. It’s a whole different program. But they are 6‑4 and big guys. So I’m a little, old guy [5’11” and 180].
Still, you know, I’m still hitting the ball long and certainly long enough to compete out here.
And now that Little League baseball season is rolling around again, he has to be careful not to trigger this episode all over again:
Baseball season is actually getting ready to start up. I’ve got some chairs now–honestly, that’s the place that kills me, so I’ve got chairs and I’ve got to get up and move around. I’ve got to be careful now, and I understand what’s going on, and like I said, I have a little machine that I can do therapy and traction by myself and know how to do it so that I don’t hurt myself…It’s a carry‑on. It fits in one of the carry-on bags and you roll it. I haven’t had to use it lately, so it’s been good…And I think last year, I did a lot of things that I thought were right to help myself, and I was actually hurting myself.
When serious injuries like this happen to a professional athlete, the glimmer of the end of a career begins to loom in the mind. Had he considered retirement?
I’ve been there many times with these injuries. But I think that there will become a point in time if you can’t compete, and if you ask–if you don’t feel like you can go out there and shoot a good round and compete, then it’s not fun anymore.
The fun part of it is getting nervous and getting uncomfortable and doing those things. I think that’s what we all thrive on. When that doesn’t happen anymore, it’s time to do something else.
But for now, his rehabilitation is working, he can shoot 5-under on a tough course with only Matt Kuchar (-7) and Sergio Garcia (-6) in front of him and he has a nice, warm 11:30 tee time in the morning.
How much better could life be?