Dudley Hart: A broken down guy playing against kids

The first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am surely passed much too quickly for those that got to play in it this year. The weather — the greatest variable at that venue — was perfect and will be through Sunday. The wind is negligible, the sun is shining and the courses are in perfect condition. To be able to play Pebble, Spyglass and Monterey Peninsula without having to give a thought to a rain suit is one of life’s more sublime experiences.

And in some cases, so too is just being able to physically play in the event. Tour pros are all just one flicker away from an injury that would end their golf livelihood. They don’t think about it very much — witness Steve Jone’s dirt bike accident, Phil’s broken leg while skiing or Lucas Glover’s fluke knee injury while body surfing in Hawaii — because it could never happen to them. By the time these guys get to the PGA Tour, they are all supremely confident human beings. You have to be to play this game.

And then disaster strikes and your worst subliminal fears come true: you get hurt and can’t play. That’s what happened to Dudly Hart. Here’s the story in his own words about how it all got started and its impact on his ability to play: 

I believe it was 2009 [when I got hurt].  The year before, I had one of my better years, finished Top‑30 and I went down to Florida.  I live in Buffalo, smart guy, and went down to Florida to practice before the season, and I had had some problems with my back, but nothing major.  I herniated a disc in the 2000 British Open was the first time I ever had a problem.  Managed it pretty well for 10 years after that pretty much.

I had a real hard time that off season and then the beginning of 2009, and to be honest, I never had it looked at and didn’t want to have it looked at.  I was in the Majors and especially the Masters. I have — at the time, now I have four kids, but at the time I had triplets and they were old enough to maybe remember.

And I’m, in the Masters, I’m — I knew something was wrong — so a long story short, I went and got a MRI after the Masters and found out that I had no disc left at my L5 S‑1. And the first doctor said, well, just don’t play golf anymore and I’m like, okay, don’t be a doctor. I’m not really qualified to do anything else, maybe flip hamburgers somewhere.

So I finally came to the conclusion that if I wanted to play, I had to have a fusion.  So I had a fusion done, spun my wheels for a couple years, and had more problems after the first one.  I finally went and saw another doctor, hindsight I probably put a little too much faith in the first guy, but found out the first surgery wasn’t done properly.  There was a screw that was not in one of the vertebrae on one side, and one screw too far went into my psoas muscle, whatever that is, and it didn’t fuse so I had to have it all — I had to start all over [can you imagine?].

I went to the hospital for a special surgery after that, Dr. Cammisa, he did an unbelievable job and I’ve been — I still had some issues.

It’s been a long road coming back and finding the most frustrating thing is there’s no book to look at and say, okay, if you have this done and you want to play golf, this is what you have to do.

So there’s — there was a process where you try things and you go to different people and finding what you need to do to get yourself to be able to play at a consistent level is difficult.  I think I have found, hopefully, I don’t want to jinx myself, but I found the right formula where I can at least practice, hit balls for an hour or so a day and hit, putt, and chip.  I can put four hours of practice in in a day and be fine.  So, that’s where we’re at now.

The Tour anticipated these sorts of debilitating injuries and has devised a Major Medical Extension of the player’s exempt status. When you come back, you are free to play in the tournaments that you would have had you still been healthy. You are given the number of tournaments that you had left in the year when the injury took you out to earn enough to make would you would have to have earned to finish in the Top-125 on the money list.

Hart had 12 events to earn $504,284, equaling No. 125 from the 2012 money list. He only played in four events and made two cuts, earning $40,217 toward his Major Medical Extension. The four events were his first starts on TOUR since the 2012 season. So he will carry over eight starts to the 2014-15 season, where he needs to earn $464,067.

Shooting a 7-under 65 on Pebble and a T3 — J.B. Holmes and Justin Hicks shot 64 and are T1 — meant a lot to him:

It means a lot.  I don’t really think about the medical part of it, to be honest with you.

It’s nice to be — I’ve had two months of decent amount of practice and no physical issues.  I’ve had a heck of a time with my back over the last four years, so it’s nice just to get back and get in a groove and feel like I can start moving in the right direction with my golf game.

I hit a lot of nice shots today.  Could have been better, could have been worse.  But I gave myself a lot of good opportunities and it’s — more importantly, it’s nice to know that I can hold up and hopefully, I’ll continue to hold up and that I still got a little decent golf in me being an old broken down pro.

You would think that trying to play golf at its highest level with the ticking time bomb of his remaining tournament exemptions would weigh on him, but guys who’ve been playing professionally as long as he has are pretty good at compartmentalizing:

No.  Not really.  The more I think about it, the less chance I have to play well, for one.  I’m a pretty realistic guy, I’m 46 years old, I’ve had two back surgeries.  I know my better days on this Tour are probably behind me somewhere, and I’m hoping to be able to play and just keep a normal amount of competitiveness up and hopefully, I can play some good golf and keep my card and go from there.

But I’m a broken down guy, playing against young kids with flat bellies and it’s — I know the odds are against me. But I’m going to keep grinding away and work hard and go out there and do the best I can.

What a great game that it has the capacity to summon so much from us. We are so lucky to be able to play it and have all that it makes available to us as its rewards.

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