By Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM Columnist
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – “They make it look so easy.”
You hear it all the time at PGA TOUR events, near a gallery rope or in a grandstand. Usually stated by well-meaning spectators -- not screamed by dolts using the passé “You the Man!” or the inane “Mashed Potatoes!” -- it is a statement that doesn’t count the cost.
It might have been said on Thursday morning, had anyone been awake at 6:40 a.m. on the first tee when Brandt Jobe pierced the still dark chill at the Riviera Country Club with a 299-yard tee drive. Or possibly during his 5-under-par 66, a round marred only by a bogey at the 18th, a round that left him two strokes behind first-round leader Matt Kuchar, who put up a 64, and one behind Sergio Garcia’s 65.
“Easy, look how easy he makes it look.”
A patient man, Jobe would have thanked them with a smile. Because if anyone in golf can speak to just how hard it is to make it look so easy, it is the 47-year-old veteran with four runner-up finishes but no victories in 313 events over 14 injury-plagued seasons on the PGA TOUR.
He laughed good-naturedly when asked how playing in the coldest part of the day affected his back, or if it necessitated any extra precautions.
“Well, I don’t have a bad back,” he said with a grin, “but I have a bad everything else.”
A quick recap of everything else: Lingering numbness in the tips of his left thumb and forefinger, severed and reattached after a freak 2006 accident in his garage; some residual pain in his right hand from a shattered hamate bone broken while hitting a ball from the rough in 2003 and in his left wrist from surgeries to repair tendon damage; he underwent two nerve blocks late last year to relieve nerve pain radiating to hands and arms from herniated disks at C-5 and C-6.
“The last month-and-a-half, I’ve felt normal, like there’s been no problem,” Jobe said. “Because my hands, I couldn’t close my hands in July. That’s how bad it got.”
Though the nerve blocks seem to have worked for now, Jobe still travels with a portable traction device that he can employ, just in case the pain starts shooting down his arms again. He is playing on his third Major Medical Extension, and needs to win $303,178 in 10 events in order to have his top 125 exemption reinstated. This is no mean feat. He missed the cut two weeks ago at The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, shooting 74-74.
“It's kind of been hard to get back,” he said. “The older I get, 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 I got used being to being home, too.
“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 1 accomplished. Let's see what happens tomorrow, and it's a good start to the week.”
Jobe knows all about the repetitive stress that the golf swing can cause. He realizes he will no longer be able to pound five or six baskets of balls on the range after a round. But he also knows the neck can flare up without golf, and traces his most recent problem to 18 months ago.
“I had been sitting on some stands watching my son play baseball all day, eight hours,” he said. “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 -- 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, OK, what's your last resort?”
The last resort for his type of injury, he realizes, would be some sort of spinal fusion, similar to the diskectomy recently performed successfully on Davis Love III. There have been many other players through the years struck by similar neck injuries, including Jerry Pate, the 1976 U.S. Open champion who won the first PLAYERS Championship contested at TPC Sawgrass in 1982. He never won again.
Arron Oberholser, also in the field at Riviera this week, has a slightly different injury, but a similar predicament. He is playing just his eighth event since suffering a wrist injury in 2007 that has since required numerous surgeries, the most recent in 2010, the same year he underwent hip surgery. He, too, is playing on a Major Medical Extension, with 12 events in 2013 to earn $349,854.
The sport these players make look so easy can be very hard indeed. But it would be harder to walk away from it while still believing there’s a chance to play. The way Jobe looks at it, he can still compete.
“There’s so many things we don’t know,” he said. “The body can only do so many activities so many times until something falls apart. I’m still hitting the ball long enough, certainly long enough to compete out here.
“If you don’t feel like you can go out there and compete, then it’s not fun anymore. When that doesn’t happen anymore, it’s time to do something else.”
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.