BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- For far too much of his career, Bill Glasson's focus has been on the number of times he went under the knife rather than the number of times he went under par. By 2010, Glasson's surgery count had reached an astounding total of 25. A painful collection of neck fusions and back operations and tendon repairs.
But Glasson's most recent surgery took place more than two years ago, and since then both his body and his game have slowly improved. That was evident Thursday during the opening round of the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek, as Glasson shot a 6-under 66 to hold a share of the lead with Dan Forsman. It is the first time Glasson has led at the end of a round since 1997, when he won for the final time on the PGA TOUR.
"My scores are an indicator of how I feel more than how I'm playing," Glasson said. "I just feel a little bit better this week."
That doesn't mean Glasson is strolling around the 7,197-yard course without any discomfort. Far from it. When asked if he is finally pain-free this year, Glasson chuckled and replied, "Are you kidding? What's that? I'm better than I've been, but I still have to take that Percocet every day when I play, my Advil and everything else. I'm trying to cut back, but I'm just not there and I don't know what the answer is. It just continues to be lingering.
"But let's face it, we're all hurt out here. Some not as much as others, but everybody's hurt. We just try to get through."
The problem for Glasson was that he often could not get through without having surgery to repair a long list of ailments. In 1984, as a young, strong PGA TOUR rookie, Glasson was the leader in driving distance. He went on to post seven victories and 65 top-10 finishes and earn nearly $7 million in prize money.
As the years went on, however, Glasson's body began to betray him. He has had surgery on his knees, elbows, tailbone, even his sinuses. He had neck and back fusions in 2008, operations that basically forced him to give up the game for nearly two years, just as he was closing in on his 50th birthday and Champions Tour eligibility.
"At the end of '09 I had a surgery that was kind of unexpected," Glasson said. "They had to go into my back and take out the rods they had stuck in there, which set me back about six months. I should have been good when I started (on the Champions Tour in 2010), but I wasn't because I had to recover from that last (surgery)."
So far, that has indeed been the last surgery Glasson has had to endure. His reconstructed body has held together and he has started putting his game back together as well, though it has taken some time.
Glasson managed only five top-10 finishes in 30 starts over the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined. But he began this year with three top-10s in his first five events. And though he slumped badly last week in the Principal Charity Classic -- shooting a 12-over 225 and finishing 75th -- he bounced back Thursday with a bogey-free round that included a birdie-birdie finish.
"It's not a surprise to me that he shot 6-under, because he's very capable," Forsman said. "He's always been an incredibly good player. His career was cut woefully short of what it should have been because of those injuries. But he's re-boosting and motivating himself to go play well again.
"When you're playing well and get the confidence going, the aches and pains start to go away. When you're making six birdies and you're playing good golf, you're really not thinking about your aches and pains."
One thing the wide array of injuries and surgeries has done is force Glasson to continually alter his game over the years. But ironically, Glasson said those injuries might actually have caused him to work on his mechanics more often than he would have had he been healthier.
"Being hurt and having limitations, it was always a challenge to come back from a surgery," Glasson said. "I'd get to a place where I was almost to the next level, then I would get hurt and have a surgery, then I would climb back up because I was motivated and challenged to play at a decent level again.
"I always had to develop a swing around what worked. Whatever body part was dysfunctional, I had to leave that out and do other things. To me the biggest accomplishment of this whole 20-something years was every time I came back, it was a totally new swing based on what I could do. So that in itself was kind of fun. I never got bored that way, that's for sure."