Joey Sindelar’s golf swing is different these days, and that’s a good thing.
His mind-set is different, too, and that may be even more important.
A chronic back issue limited Sindelar to 15 starts last year, his fewest since joining the Champions Tour in 2008. In 2012, his last event was the SAS Championship, where he was forced to withdraw before finishing the first round. In November, Sindelar underwent back surgery in New York.
This week, Sindelar will make only his seventh start of 2013 at the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. At the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open last week, Sindelar put together his best, most optimistic performance of the season. His play had symmetry – he shot 70-70-70 – to tie for 30th.
That he wasn’t particularly thrilled by those numbers or the finish, given what he’s had to endure, is telling. It says plenty about where Sindelar was, where he is now and where he may be headed.
“I can tell I'm getting closer to being back to golf because I'm really angry right now and I shouldn't be,” he said after the second round at En-Joie Golf Club. “I definitely threw away a bunch of shots and it could have been a good round.
“That sounds like a typical Tour player moaning and groaning. But the fact of the matter is, I played a quite pain-free round of golf, and that's really the biggest part of the journey for me right now. So I need to step back and take a breath and be happy about my physical ability right now to play, and the golfy stuff hopefully will get better as I go.”
Sindelar made his return in February, just four months after the operation. He played the Allianz Championship and the ACE Group Classic in Florida before packing it in again until the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship in late June. A nerve in his back was being irritated by his golf swing.
“I came back and tried to play in February with my old swing, and it just kept beating up the nerve and didn't work,” he said. “So I had to, at that point, recognize I needed to change the swing to get the pressure off of that.
“So that's what I have been working hard on.”
In each of the four events since his return at the SENIOR PLAYERS, Sindelar has become more competitive.
“There's been a nice progression from four to three to two to (Dick’s’),” he said.
“I'm surprised, I'm pleased. It's fun to see that it's definitely been a step forward each of the weeks I've been able to play. And certainly they can't be as big a leap as I had the first few weeks because I started from way, way back.
“It was almost not golf at all when I started. So to now be catching up to these guys distance-wise and hitting some shots that I am really happy with and making a bunch of birdies, I'm pleased. This is what we've been fighting for and I'm very happy.”
For Sindelar, success has a new definition. Sure, it’s about competing well and, ultimately, posting the kind of scores that will result in victory. But it’s also about staying healthy, staying pain-free and continuing to play without a flare-up of his back issues.
Sindelar, 55, acknowledged that before the third round at Dick’s when he said, “Honestly if I went out and duffed it around and my back didn't hurt, that would still not be bad news.”
Sindelar’s performance at En-Joie was significant because it was there that last year he almost posted his first Champions Tour victory. His final-round 66 left him one stroke out of a playoff between the eventual winner, Willie Wood, and Michael Allen. In 2011, Sindelar tied for fourth at Dick’s with three sub-70 rounds.
Sindelar averaged just over $800,000 in his first four Champions Tour seasons, reaching a high of $1,124,437 in 2009, his second year, when he had two runner-up finishes and seven top 10s in 23 starts. The Ohio State product won seven times on the PGA TOUR between the 1985 Greater Greensboro Open and the 2004 Wachovia Championship.
For Sinedelar, it’s all about re-establishing a confidence level that will allow him to compete at the highest levels of the Champions Tour.
“My trust in what I'm trying to do out there to keep myself from hurting,” he said. “And then at the same time while I'm trying not to hurt, to hit quality golf shots. Each day I'm becoming more comfortable with that, so that makes me happy.”
And when the comfort level returns to where it needs to be, Sindelar knows the “golfy stuff” will follow.