Bramlett in contention at The Greenbrier after being sidelined for over four years
September 14, 2019
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Joseph Bramlett carded a 65 in Round 3 at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Joseph Bramlett saw 15 different spine surgeons.
The first 14 told him that an operation to fix the annular tear to his L5-L6 disc would likely end his budding golf career. The 15th was willing to do exploratory surgery but Bramlett’s girlfriend Samantha Boozer put her foot down and said no.
“She’s helped me out of some desperate moments,” Bramlett said with a smile.
Those moments appear to be behind the 6-foot-4 Californian, though. After being sidelined for the better part of four-and-a-half years, Bramlett finally rehabilitated his back and rebuilt his swing, and now, after two seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour, he has his PGA TOUR card again.
Bramlett will tee off Sunday at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier with a chance to win, too, after a third-round 65 that tied for the day’s low, propelling him to 11 under and four strokes off the lead held by Joaquin Niemann. He called it a “solid” day.
“I wouldn't say I did anything out of the ordinary,” said Bramlett, who made four birdies and a 50-footer for eagle at the 12th hole while dropping just one shot to par. “… Kept the mistakes to a minimum.”
The personable Bramlett played at Stanford, graduating in 2010 with a degree in communications, and promptly made it through Q-school to get his TOUR card for the following season. After finishing 196th in the FedExCup, though, he found himself on what is now known as the Korn Ferry Tour in 2012.
Bramlett narrowly missed regaining his TOUR card that year, falling from 24th to 28th on the money list, three below the cutoff, in the final event of the year. Then midway through the 2013 season, his back flared up while he was preparing a Korn Ferry Tour event in Utah.
That was in July. Bramlett didn’t play again until January of 2016 and lasted just three events. He missed all of 2017 before being able to return full-time in February of 2018.
“I just trying to warm up on the driving range and my back went out and fell over and couldn't move for a while,” Bramlett said matter-of-factly.
Annular tears like the 31-year-old had usually take about 18 months to heal. But Bramlett’s recovery was complicated by poor posture, tight hips and several flaws in his swing, so every time he started to practice, he’d soon find himself flat on his back again.
“I used to have really poor footwork,” Bramlett explained. “I was the guy that jumped off the ground and was on his toes at impact, and my hips were rotated way too fast and I was in a lot of side bend. I was just cranking the low right side of my back.”
About three years into the process, Bramlett found John Scott Rattan, a teaching pro at Congressional Country Club in Washington, D.C., and physical therapist Cody Fowler, and things began to change. Together he and Rattan rebuilt his swing from the ground up.
“It was just a ticking time bomb,” Bramlett said. “I didn't realize that I was putting myself at risk like I was at the time.”
The rehab, which was “tedious,” he said, worked in concert with the swing changes. Bramlett did foot exercises and worked on his hip mobility, trying to become more fluid. He’d work for 15 minutes, rest for 45 and start again. Over and over.
“When I first started I had almost zero internal rotation on both my hips,” he said. “It wasn't a structural issue. I just didn't know how to use them, go through the motion. … My nervous system had kind of shut me down and I was rigid and locked. So, yeah, just had to break that stuff down.”
Bramlett said he could understand what Kevin Chappell, who shot a 59 on Friday at the Old White TPC, has gone through. The Greenbrier is Chappell’s first event since having back surgery in November and while Bramlett’s layoff was much longer, the emotions and effort both had to endure are similar.
“I feel bad for him because no matter what amount of time it takes it feels like a lifetime,” Bramlett said.
“I think it was great to see what he did. I thought it spoke to his confidence to be able to come out having not competed and get in that position and just believe in yourself the whole way through.
“That was something I fought last year. I started getting really nervous towards the end of tournaments because I hadn't been in that position for a long time. I had to really work through that.”
Bramlett says he tells his friends that he doesn’t cry happy tears. At the same time, though, he admits to getting misty-eyed when he finally teed up in his first Korn Ferry Tour event after all the rehab was done. He got a little emotional when he hit the road on Sunday and headed to The Greenbrier, too.
“It's been my dream since kindergarten to play out here,” Bramlett said. “I've had a one-track mind. This is what I've always wanted to do. From when I first started playing golf I fell in love with the game and PGA TOUR. That was my dream my whole life."