Briny Baird: Facing His Golf Mortality

As darkness descended and suspended first-round play at the McGladrey Classic, Briny Baird shared the clubhouse lead after shooting a spectacular 7-under, 63 at the Sea Island Golf Club.

Not real familiar with Baird? That’s probably because in his 364 prior starts on the PGA Tour, he’s never won. He’s finished 2nd five times, so there’s no doubt he can play. But he just hasn’t been able to push himself across the winner’s line. And 2012 made it more difficult for him; he took a Major Medical Extension to have double shoulder surgery.

I started feeling pain in 2012, the beginning of 2012.  Played up until the Byron Nelson.  Played for three months with pain in my left shoulder.  About two weeks after, the pain went to the right shoulder also.  Then it just hurt going both directions.  It hurt going back and it hurt going through.

It became too much. I told my caddie who is still my caddie right now, he could see it in my face.  I was getting aggravated.  It wears on you.  I told him I was done. 

So that decision made, he set about trying to find out what was wrong and what to do about it.

I went home and found a doctor.  The doctor gave me a cortisone shot in each shoulder, found minimal relief.  I went and saw rehab specialists.  I did rehab for about three months, all trying to avoid having surgery.  I thought I could do extensive rehab to avoid — after him telling me what he thought it was.  He kind of looked at me like he wasn’t entirely sure either way.  He said it was possible, but I don’t think he really believed it either.

The worst is getting into the uncertainty. It’s not like, “take this aspirin, it’ll cure your headache.” You get your consultation and then make your best guess about what to do.

I did the work, felt great, wasn’t touching a club.  It didn’t work, ended up having the surgery.  He wanted two or three months between shoulders.  I talked him into one month.  That was probably the first mistake I made in a long lost list of mistakes that I made having both shoulders done.

And that decision made, you want to be right and you want it to be over.

I came back three months earlier than I probably should have.  That was mistake number two.  I went and played a couple of events down in South America in late February is when that was.  Played the first event, played terrible but felt okay.  Couldn’t do this, and it sounds crazy to say, I literally couldn’t do this.  I couldn’t wash my back.

But swinging your club, you stay [with your arms close to your body], and you are not [reaching over your shoulders trying to wash your back].  And that was my logic behind going and playing.  I was in, I guess, a hurry to get back to play.  I’m not sure why, but I was.

And he paid the price for his impatience.

They ended up blowing up pretty good.  They swelled up really good and everything locked up.  It took four months to relieve that.  Acupuncture, which I don’t like needles.

But says he never doubted whether he’d play again or not.

It was a long process, but it was not a complicated surgery.  I never once questioned that I wouldn’t play golf again.  I knew I would.  You don’t ever really know how you’re gonna play, but I was never worried.  It was not like Tommy John surgery or anything like that.

But still, there are times when the mind wanders.

Scary.  Even though I had a good doctor at the golf course that I belonged to, who is not a practicing doctor, he told me that it’s a pretty easy surgery.

As far as who to use, I didn’t need to find the best doctor in the world to do this.  That was what was going through my mind.  Even with [my doctor friend] saying that, you get nervous over little things.  What if they mess up?  What if you don’t wake up from the anesthesia?  There’s a lot of things.  It wasn’t fun.

Right down to the day of the day of the surgery.

The surgery itself, they put you in — everybody has gone through surgery.  When they put you in that waiting room before they knock you out, it’s like a meat locker.  I mean, there’s a whole bunch of rooms only divided by a curtain.  You just basically wait until your number is called.  They wheel you in there.

I told the doctor — my name is Michael Baird.  Unless you follow golf, you probably never really heard of Briny Baird.  But if you follow golf, there is a chance you’ve heard of Briny Baird.

I told the guy when I consulted with him several times that I do play golf for a living. I remember looking up at him before we were wheeled in there.  As I said, he took a look and said you’re going to be fine.  I said you do know what I do for a living, correct?  He was like, yeah, you’ll be fine.

I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing something, removing the bone, maybe I wouldn’t feel pain but am I going to lose mobility?  It was scary.  It’s a lot of guys out here that have gone through stuff like that.  I think it’s scary because it’s new.

Maybe it was scary because of the procedure he described.

Everybody has tears in there.  There was some tears in there that they fixed.  There was a scar that I don’t exactly know what the scar was from, because I had four of the arthroscopic Band‑Aids.  But they did butterfly me open for some reason.  I’m not exactly sure.

The main surgery with the AC joint.  They took ten millimeters of bone out of the AC joint.  And I ended up doing the same surgery on both sides.  That was the main reason where the pain was coming from.  The tears are — he didn’t seem to stress too much over the tears.  He said he would clean up while he was in there.  It was the ten millimeters.

Maybe it’s something about feeling that you are not your complete self any more; you now have twenty millimeters of bone missing from your body. And all of his impatience caught up with him. The recovery process dragged on.

I probably had the surgery in October.  One was in October and one was in November.  I think they were exactly a month apart.  Like I said, he wanted two to three months and I talked him into one month.  That was a mistake because your body can only handle so much trauma before it becomes self‑defeating.

I learned all this afterwards.  It’s hard to send all the stuff to repair ‑‑ it’s hard enough to do one side.

Anyway, if I had to guess I’d say I was hitting 50 yards shots maybe two and a half, three months later.

He said in his post-round interview on the Golf Channel that one of the things that bothered him was wondering if the inherent drive that all Tour players have had dissipated. What would it take to get that back? Would he be able to play at the mental level required? He addressed the consequences of that in the media center.

What else am I going to do?  Seriously.  That’s usually what people say.  When you start get frustrated playing golf, which people find that hard to believe, other players kind of look at what else are you going to do?  Are you going to retire?  What are you doing to do?  There’s only so much fishing I can do, and I actually will get tired of fishing.

So I mean, what else am I going to do?  I love to compete.  Where else am I going to release that?  I always — I’m not sure I love golf.  I love to compete.  May not show in my record that I haven’t won, but I love to compete.

He goes off at 12:10 local this afternoon. And he’s a man on a mission: he has to make up the earnings he didn’t make while he was out all of 2013 in order to keep his card. He has 14 events this season to earn $493,399 which, coupled with 2012 earnings of $154,111, would equal No. 125 from the 2012 money list. Through two events so far, he has made $64,375.

A big check this week would go a long way. So far, things look promising. And, most important, he believes he can do it. And why not? He is currently the non-winner with the most starts and money earned on the PGA Tour.

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