April 2 2011
By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
HUMBLE, Texas -- A shot at another Masters.
It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know if his left wrist will hold up through tomorrow. Or that he’s playing two weeks in a row for the first time in, oh, six months. Or that three weeks in a row would be seriously uncharted territory at this point in his career.
If Scott Verplank wins the Shell Houston Open, he’ll be there. Even if, he said, they have to pull him to the first tee on a stretcher.
He’s not kidding.
Given the past six months, that’s not out of the question. The man who has spent a career playing on guts and overcoming enough to make most people throw their hands up and walk away is pushing through the pain once again. But that hasn’t stopped him from throwing out back-to-back 65s at Redstone and going into the final round sharing the lead with Phil Mickelson. Watch: Verplank eagles the par-4 10th
This time, it’s Verplank’s left wrist. In layman’s terms, he has a degenerative bone issue. He’s had regular MRIs, arthrograph MRIs. Cortisone shots. Ice. Heat. You name it.
"The tissues are good, but the bone doesn't look very good," he said. "That's why I had this loss, kind of sapping of strength.
"I talked to my doctor on the way down here. He had sent my stuff off to another guy (at the Steadman Clinic) in Vail, you know, trying to find someone -- my problem so far is I haven't been able to find anybody that wants to operate on it because nobody ever had to do that to a guy that needs it to work, for sure.
"So right now it's like I'm not hurting myself. They just said it's how much you can put up with."
Verplank’s pain tolerance is in another stratosphere. Two right elbow surgeries. A shoulder problem. A bout with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. A lifetime battling Type I diabetes.
"I've always -- I put up with a lot of stuff, so the pain is not the thing that has really bothered me," said Verplank, whose last win was an emotional one at the 2007 HP Byron Nelson Championship the year after Nelson passed away. "The pain obviously bothers everybody in different ways, but the thing that's bothered me with my golf has been kind of loss of stability.
"So, what I've been struggling with, I can go and feel pretty good for two, three days, you know, at home and then kind of be real sore, and if I try to hit balls, I just don't have good stability in my left wrist. I start hitting some funny-looking shots.
"These young guys are too good to come out and compete with if I'm hitting a bunch of if funny-looking shots. Been very pleased that I've held up really well. I hit the ball today pretty good."
On Saturday, he missed just one fairway and one green. The style of play that convinced Curtis Strange to make him a captain’s pick – as a Ryder Cup rookie – in 2002. The same style that led to a T18 finish at the 2010 Masters, aT8 there in 2003 and T7s at both the U.S. and British Opens (2007, 2001, respectively).
Yet there was a question whether or not he could play two weeks in a row. He finished T38 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Sunday, then came to Houston hoping the wrist would hold up. The last time he tried to go back to back was in late February when, after finishing tied for 29th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, he tried to tee it up at the The Honda Classic.
"I was down there at Honda until Thursday," he said. "I tried -- I tried to warm up every single day, never got off the range. I hit balls for like 15 minutes on Thursday at a tee time with Davis. It was in the first round. Out there hitting balls. About 11:30, I'm done, can't do it.
"It's been -- it's pretty hard for me to be there and to give up, you know. Knock on wood right now, I'm okay. Hopefully, it will -- like I said, I just need stability."
He’s changed his weight lifting routine and that’s helped him get the strength back in his wrist capsule.
"In the last three, four weeks, I've been able to start doing stuff where I can at least hold on to some strength," he said. "I can just tell by the way I hit shots. So it's better now than it's been in six months. Hopefully, it will continue that way.."
He still has to ice the wrist several times a night and get treatment in the fitness trailer, but he’s ready to test it against long-time friend and Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teammate Mickelson.
But before that? Well, he was going to settle in and watch a little NCAA semifinals on the TV. And, of course, call home. His youngest had just sent him a picture of her new fish.
"To go with six horses, two dogs and a cat," he chuckled.
What pain? Who’s talking ice, physical therapy or a stretcher to Augusta’s first tee?
A picture of the new fish from his 7-year-old? Priceless.
SCOTT VERPLANK'S SCORECARD: