By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- For the first time in nearly five years, Hank Kuehne will play in a tournament at this week’s Honda Classic. Just over a year ago, he didn’t think that would ever again be possible.
Besieged by back injuries the last half-decade plus, Kuehne, once one of the longest hitters on the PGA TOUR, was resigned to the fact that he might never again play professionally. Not after seeing 13 different doctors who told him “we can’t help you.”
That’s when Kuehne, at the urging of his father, visited Dr. Peter Wehling in Dusseldorf, Germany, where a method of blood spinning -- small samples of blood are spun in a centrifuge to increase the concentration of growth hormones, calcium and enzyme thrombin are added and the sample is injected into the wound -- was applied to Kuehne’s spine.
Wehling is the same doctor who healed the notoriously bad backs of Fred Couples and Vijay Singh.
“I didn't want to go. I didn't have a good attitude about going,” Kuehne said Wednesday. “I'm like, well, what's this quack going to tell me that 13 guys here haven't told me.”
What they told him, ultimately, is that he would be able to play golf again, which he will do for the first time since the 2007 FedEx St. Jude Classic.
The worst part of the treatment, Kuehne said, was an injection into his hip with a needle that was “about the size of No. 2 pencil.”
During that time away, Kuehne could have undergone surgery to take away the pain but says that would not have necessarily fixed the problem.
At one point, however, the pain was so bad that Kuehne couldn’t walk.
“Of course I considered quitting,” said Kuehne, who seemed to be destined for stardom after winning the 1998 U.S. Amateur. “I gave up.
“When you go from being healthy individual to not really having any problems and able to do everything else -- the most difficult part is not really just being able to function in day-to-day life. Not being able to play golf was extremely difficult. But when your child looks at you and smiles and comes and runs up with his arms wide open and wants you to pick him up and you can't do it, it doesn't feel real good.”
Now Kuehne does feel good. Playing on a major medical exemption, he will have 18 events to earn $636,221 to get his TOUR card.
That, however, is the last thing on his mind.
“All I can do is worry about my golf game and play the best that I can play,” Kuehne said. “If I play good golf, I think that number is insignificant. It will take care of itself.”
• Poised to make his first start at The Honda Classic as a professional, 14-time major championship winner Tiger Woods will begin the Florida Swing at PGA National, where he will be seeking his first official PGA TOUR win since the 2009 BMW Championship.
In 1993, Woods played The Honda Classic as an amateur at Weston Hills, where a 72-78 resulted in a missed cut. The Honda Classic is the second of three consecutive starts on TOUR for Woods in 2012. The stretch began with the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and ends with the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. Woods has not competed in three consecutive events on TOUR since the first three events of the 2010 PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, The Barclays (T12), Deutsche Bank Championship (T11) and BMW Championship (T15).
Woods, a 71-time winner on TOUR, has amassed 12 career TOUR victories in the state of Florida.
This week's field at The Honda Classic includes:
• 15 of the top 30 in the current FedExCup standings,
including Nos. 1-2 (Kyle Stanley-Johnson Wagner).
• All four major winners from 2011: Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open), Darren Clarke (British Open) and Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship).
• 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III will make his 18th career start at The Honda Classic. He has collected five top-10 finishes in the event.
• Hank Kuehne will make his first PGA TOUR start since 2007 at the 2012 Honda Classic. The Palm Beach Gardens resident has been out of commission with a lingering back injury and will be playing out of the Major Medical Extension category. He will have 18 events to earn $636,221 in order to retain his status for the remainder of the season.
• Past Honda Classic champions: Rory Sabbatini (2011), Camilo Villegas (2010), Y.E. Yang (2009), Ernie Els (2008), Mark Wilson (2007), Padraig Harrington (2005), Justin Leonard (2003), Vijay Singh (1999), Mark Calcavecchia (1998, 1987), Stuart Appleby (1997), Tim Herron (1996).
• Notables from the Nationwide Tour in The Honda Classic field include two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, as well as Billy Hurley III, who recently completed his military obligation after his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy.
All interviews will be streamed live on PGATOUR.COM. You can also check Twitter @PGATOUR.
Tuesday, Feb. 28
Rory Sabbatini: 8:30 a.m.
Davis Love III: 1:30 p.m.
Lee Westwood: 5:00 p.m.
Jack Nicklaus: 5:30 p.m.
Keegan Bradley: TBD
Wednesday, Feb. 29
Hank Kuehne: 9:30 a.m.
Tiger Woods: Following 6:45 a.m. Pro-Am
Mark Wilson: Following 8:35 a.m. Pro-Am
Rory McIlroy: Following 8:45 a.m. Pro-Am