It's amazing what good health can mean to a player, and Troy Kelly is a walking example.
Kelly, 32, has a renewed sense of confidence not only in his game (he's quietly ranked fifth on the Nationwide Tour money list), but also in his ability to walk.
"It used to be so bad that after practicing all day I would be in the grocery store or somewhere else and I could barely walk," Kelly said about an arthritic hip problem that he battled for the last two and half years. "I didn't feel much like an athlete."
He shut down his season on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 playing just 10 tournaments because the pain was so bad. He saw a doctor, who recommended hip replacement. Kelly's first reaction was "Sure, that would be OK if I was on the Champions Tour."
Kelly didn't have many other options, and since it had continued to get worse, he elected to have the surgery.
"The doctor basically said that it would stay about the same and that if I could tolerate the pain then OK, but he also suggested hip replacement," Kelly said.
He had the surgery last September and says the recovery went well, and while he won't be running any marathons, he doesn't have any pain in his new left hip.
"I couldn't walk," Kelly said as he tried to sum up his physical problems he had to endure even when he played a full season on the PGA TOUR in 2009. "I tried to hide it most of the time. Maybe my caddie and my dad knew, but I just thought I could play through it and I shouldn't have done that."
What made Kelly more upset during his ordeal of pain was that he was an athlete all of his life playing plenty of basketball and other sports growing up near Seattle. With no history of arthritis in his family, he's not sure what led to the constant pain, but at least now he can continue to pursue his career.
He was playing on a partial medical exemption this season that gave him five tournaments to make about $13,000 but when he did so well two weeks ago at Stadion Classic at the University of Georgia with a second-place finish he became exempt for the rest of the season.
Because an amateur, Georgia senior Russell Hensley, won the tournament by two shots over Kelly it was Kelly who took home the $99,000 first-place check. "I guess if you are going to finish second it pays to lose to an amateur," Kelly said about his largest payday of his pro career that vaulted him from 78th on the money list to fifth.
The shot of confidence Kelly gained by shooting 71-67-66-70 to finish 10 under is something he hopes will translate into his best season as a pro. With his health at an all-time best, his golf came has also come around.
Kelly also Monday-qualified into the PGA TOUR's Waste Management Phoenix Open in February and wound up tying for 57th, which he says gave him another shot of confidence with his new hip.
What makes Kelly appreciate his good health is the fact he had to dig deep when he first turned pro in 2003 after graduating from the University of Washington. While honing his game on the mini-tours he had to work to support himself by remodeling homes on the side.
It's a job he's proud of because he worked hard and it gave him motivation to succeed in golf.
"I look back on those days a lot and it really made me realize what I wanted to do and that was to play golf for a living," Kelly said. "And even the time when I was on the PGA Tour for that one year I didn't take that for granted but I also didn't feel like I fit in."
Partly because of his hip problem, but he also thought he needed more work on his golf game. During that one season on the PGA Tour he played 17 tournaments but managed to make just three cuts.
Kelly admits he tried to compensate for his injuries and changed his swing.
"When I made a real good golf swing it hurt the most," Kelly said, "So I was doing a lot of arm swings and not really getting my lower body working at all."
When the surgery was completed, Kelly said his doctor didn't know how long it would take for a full recovery.
"He was used to working on older people who obviously need more time to recover so it was kind of unknown as to when I'd be ready to play again," Kelly said.
He progressed well in the recovery after the surgery, which required a steel rod to be inserted.
One of his biggest worries now is setting off airport security alarms, but it beats the alternative when he used to limp through airports.
"I've flown with it since and I haven't had any problems yet," Kelly said. "I guess it's going to depend on the airport as to how much hassle it might be."
As for his excitement level for the rest of the season, Kelly is walking tall.
"I'm really happy with my improvement," Kelly said, "I just want to keep it going."
John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 17 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.