PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Steve Flesch is back and he's hungry for more wins
January 09, 2019
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- January 09, 2019
- Steve Flesch had surgery on September 6 of 2018.
Steve Flesch had big plans after his breakthrough victory on PGA TOUR Champions at the 2018 Mitsubishi Electric Classic in April.
He was looking forward to a full season since he had squeezed in only 16 events in 2017 after turning 50 in May. He might be able to win again. Certainly he’d qualify for the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs again, and this time he’d make it to the finale, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
But it all went awry somewhere between Atlanta and Ridgedale, Missouri, site of the event after the Mitsubishi, the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, where Flesch would team with David Toms.
Flesch and the rest of his compatriots had played 36 holes on Saturday at the Mitsubishi event to beat inclement weather expected on Sunday. The Kentucky native actually had played 38, going extra holes to beat Bernhard Langer and Scott Parel.
Rather than sit around until Monday, Flesch adjusted his flight arrangements and headed to Missouri on Sunday morning.
“I arrive in Missouri and it’s freezing cold, literally 32 degrees, and the rental car lot is a long way out from the terminal,” Flesch said. “I’m pulling my bags behind me. I have no heavy coat. I’m lifting and pulling and hunching my shoulders, and I’m cold.
“I get in the room and I’m like, ‘My back doesn’t feel great.’ The next morning, I wake up and there’s pain down my left arm -- burning pain. Not like a muscle pull. I didn’t know what it was.”
Flesch got some work done in the fitness trailer and played at the Legends, and he and Toms finished in a tie for fifth. But the trainers told him to get an X-ray when he got home.
So before the Insperity Invitational in the Greater Houston area, Flesch met with his doctor, Michael Rohmiller, a surgeon at Beacon Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine in Cincinnati. And the news wasn’t good.
Imaging tests and X-rays showed Flesch had herniated C6 and C7 discs, which are the vertebrae at the base of the neck. Inflammation in that area directly affects the muscles in the arms and hands, thus Flesch’s “dead left arm.”
Flesch and Rohmiller held off on surgery to see if the inflammation might go down on its own. The player didn’t make the trip to Texas but tried to play in the year’s first major, the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Alabama. He ended up withdrawing because of the pain and then had to skip the Senior PGA Championship as well.
He finally reappeared at the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, but by now Flesch was a shell of the guy who had won outside Atlanta. He was taking pain medication daily and icing his arm and shoulder until he fell asleep.
“I was doing anything I could to keep playing,” said Flesch, who somehow managed to play the next four events, including The Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex because he couldn’t imagine skipping St. Andrew’s. “I was playing in a fog because of not sleeping and the pain meds. My caddie was looking at me like, ‘Are you going to make it through the round?’
“After St. Andrew’s I went home and said I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to have the surgery. I had played 10 or 12 events in a zombie state.”
Flesch said Rohmiller, who had performed successful back surgeries on Flesch’s sister, had every confidence that the golfer would be just fine.
“He basically guaranteed me without saying the word guaranty that I’d be 100 percent. He said, ‘I know I can make you feel better.’”
Flesch had the surgery on Sept. 6. The damage, though, was much worse than Rohmiller had seen or anticipated after looking at the MRIs and X-rays. Flesch’s C7 had virtually exploded. The doctor put in a plate and six screws.
“There were bits and pieces of my C7 all around my spinal column, which is why epidurals and icing and pain meds wouldn’t give me any relief,” Flesch said.
He said when he woke up he felt no pain and the numbness in his left arm had gone from a 10 to a one. He felt so good he thought he could pick up a club as soon as he was released from the hospital, but major surgery has a different timetable.
Rohmiller told Flesch not to play for three months. He abided and didn’t take to the range until the first week of December. He said Monday that he had been “pretty much full speed for a month now.” He also was wrapping up two weeks of playing every day with a round at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass with his son.
“At this point I’m just kinda tired and a little sore,” Flesch said. “I wouldn’t say I’m better than ever yet, but compared to where I was …”
Flesch is eager to return to action, and he gets to check off an accomplishment in the very first event. Because of his win at the Mitsubishi, he has been invited to the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. It will be his first appearance there.
“I know the hunger is there because I missed playing,” Flesch said. “I’ve always been competitive. I love playing so much.
“I want to play like I was in April. My first win was big and I had big expectations for the rest of the year. I just know that my desire to compete is gonna allow me to play well again this year. I just want to play a full year. I want to play a full year and see what I can do.”