What they said: Hank Kuehne

February 29, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

DOUG MILNE: We'd like to welcome Hank Kuehne to the interview room. I know that's probably long overdue hearing that, here at the Honda Classic in 2012.

Welcome back, first of all, and with that being said, why don't you just kind of bring us up to speed. It's been I guess five years since you've been out here.

HANK KUEHNE: Been a long time.

DOUG MILNE: Yeah, just to us about how you're feeling, health and how the game is as you prepare to start the week.

HANK KUEHNE: Yeah, definitely the last few years has been obviously a struggle. I mean, after being hurt and with my back and all of the issue the that I had, seeing so many different doctors, and everything else, and then like eight months ago I guess, or nine months ago, actually more than that now, end of March of last year, I went over to Germany and gave it one last shot, because at that point, I had pretty much given up.

Dr.Wehling was able to really help me and I came home and was able to play and practice. Just kind of took it slow because I wasn't quite sure everything was going to work, and then as I continued to get better and better, I actually really was looking forward to get to a position where I would be back to be able to compete and play.

It's been like a life-changing experience. I mean, my golf game has been really good. I had one little setback I guess just over the holidays, but went back over and saw the Doc and we got everything taken care of. And I feel healthy as I've ever felt, and I'm just extremely excited and grateful to be able to play again.

DOUG MILNE: Before we open up for questions, I'll ask you real quick, obviously frustration had to be an incredible factor throughout, if you can just touch on how that played in and how you beat that demon.

HANK KUEHNE: There was a few times, I had seen 13 doctors here, in the U.S., and some of the best specialists in the country and one of them is the best spine surgeons in the world.

At one point, I guess in 2007, I actually got to the point where I was reasonable and I tried to play again and to play a few more events, and as I was out on the road, it got worse and worse and so that door got closed again. It's like -- actually, it's heartbreaking to be honest.

If you get to the point where you feel like you can play, and then that door gets slammed in your face again, do that two or three times, it's miserable. At that point, I would much rather have been told, you know what, you're not ever going to be able to play golf again. I would have been able to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and move forward and try to do something else.

You know, when this is what all you've done since you were a kid and all you've of wanted to, to get back to the point where I could play for a short period of time and have the door closed again, it was too hard to deal with to be honest.

But I had great support system around me, my family and friends and I've had a lot of support from all of the people who care about me and they are able to help me get through those periods of time, and now here we are again.

DOUG MILNE: Well, it's great to have you back.

Q. What did the Germany guy do? Was it the platelet stuff or what all were they working on over there? What was different than in the States, if it's not too complicated?

HANK KUEHNE: It's called Orthokine. I can tell you what I did when I got there. I get off the plane, go to the doctor's office and they take 16 tubes of blood and I go back to the hotel, I come back a few hours later and they spin it I guess and do some different� � I don't know exactly what their procedure is.

It's similar to the platelet stuff, but my understanding, I guess about a month ago, they passed it where you can do it in the U.S. now. But before, you couldn't do spine in the United States. They were doing joints, extremities, knees, elbows shoulder, hands. Not with the exact same procedure as Dr.Wehling's, but it's very similar to, I guess it would be the platelet therapy.

Q. What was sort of the toughest part of that physically for you??

HANK KUEHNE: Part of what?

Q. Going through everything you've gone through the last three, four, five years.

HANK KUEHNE: To be honest, 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. I mean, my boy is 6 1/2 years old, and not being able to pick up my son and run and do different things.

I mean, I think that -- obviously playing golf, not being able to play golf was extremely difficult. But not being able to function in normal, every day life was I think even more difficult. I don't know if you have kids or you don't have kids, 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's not -- it doesn't feel real good.

Q. What's the total on surgeries and whatnot that you've had down there, arthroscopically, or whatever, if any, actually??

HANK KUEHNE: I actually refused the surgeries. All of the doctors that I saw here basically they said, well, we can do the surgery and we can get you to a point where we can make you feel better.

And I said, well, what does that mean, you know, can you heal the problems that I have; can you fix me. The answer was: No, but we can take away the pain. For me, that was not an option, because my body hurts for a reason. My body is trying to tell me something. It doesn't just hurt to hurt.

So I chose to not do those surgeries and tried to get to a point -- if the human body has what it needs, I'm a believer, you give it what it needs, it will heal itself. If you're able to have the different proteins and things you need, it will help. If you burn your nerves and you can't feel pain or you can't feel what you need, then I just think you're going to continue to damage it.

My bad days, I couldn't walk. My question to the doctor was: If you do the surgery and I don't feel any pain, and I go back out and I start playing golf because I can't feel anything, five years from now, am I going to be able to get out of bed? Am I going to be in a wheelchair?

Well, we can't answer that question.

So for me, that wasn't an option. If they had given me something like, you know, you've got a 50/50 chance of healing you, I would have done it in a heartbeat, even at that odds, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But they didn't give me anything like that. The options that they told me were basically, we can't heal anything, we can just take away pain.

Q. What's the most days in a row you have played since this? Obviously you're looking at putting your head down and grind and go through a lot of days of sustained golf and a lot of walking. I don't know how much walking you've been doing. Have you sort of ramped up to this?

HANK KUEHNE: Well, obviously when I first started -- prior to going to Germany, I had a good couple of weeks and would go out and swing the golf club, maybe take ten or 15 swings, hit a couple balls, and I couldn't walk for two days.

When I got back from Germany, first thing I did, I was in the gym for a week. I got out of the gym for that week and everything -- I came home and I got in the gym and I went in the afternoon, because usually if I go in the morning, I wouldn't be able to walk after I sat down, right.

So I worked out right before -- later in the afternoon, had some dinner, laid down and went to bed and I woke up the next morning and for the first time in four years, I had sore muscles, and I could walk. So I thought, wow, this is different.

So I continued to do the rehab and continued to do stuff for a week. I hit 30 balls a day for a week. Then I hit 60 balls a day for a week. Then I hit 90 balls a day for a week. And, you know, I was able to continue to get better and see progression.

You know, I started to practice. I had a few minor setbacks, but for the most part, I can definitely� � today I can play seven days a week and be a little bit tired, but my body still functions the right way.

So I've been putting a lot of time in and grinding and trying to get ready to play. I mean, obviously coming back after such a long layoff and playing against the best players in the world, I feel like I needed to definitely put the time in and work. You don't just come out here and show up and compete. So I've been able to do everything I need to do to get ready to play.

Q. How is your bat speed? Of course everybody is going to want to know if you've still got the horsepower you used to have.

HANK KUEHNE: I'm a little older, a little fatter, but it still get out there all right.

My speed's still just over 180, ball speed. It's not what it used to be, but, you know, I still think it gets out there all right.

Q. Was it just one treatment that you had in Germany or did you have to go several days??

HANK KUEHNE: When I went in March, I actually -- we got there on a Sunday. Monday morning you're in the doctor -- they do the blood draw in the morning. You come back and I took eight injections a day for five straight days and then came home.

When I went back in January, I did the same thing. Actually, I took nine in January, a day, for five straight days. And then come home. It's not -- for somebody that hates needles, it's obviously not fun, but I'd much rather do that than -- if I had to do it every day, I'd do it, let's put it that way.

Q. Did they zap you right at the infected area? Do they roll you over on the stomach and hit you right above the butt crack or what do they do?

HANK KUEHNE: Well, I'm not going to go into that kind of detail. Basically, I had -- I got five bad facets, two bad discs, structure problem with my pelvis. So you go through the MRIs here, send my films, everything over to him. He has a look. When I get there, you get under a CT, live X� ray, and you put all of these grids and all this stuff on your back.

And then they actually measure if you've got to go 5.3 millimeters to get into that facet, that's what they do. And they take a Sharpie, mark your back, where you've got to go. So then he knows, okay, L4- L5, L5-S1, we have to go six millimeters here, 5 1/2 millimeters here and actually inject my proteins back into the small infected area. It's fun. (Laughter).

The bad one is the hip. If I had seen the needle that he used before the hip, I think I would have run out of the office. It's like a No.2 pencil. It's at least six inches long. It's gross.

Q. Is this something that you have to go back on an annual basis or something??

HANK KUEHNE: I felt great for nine months maybe, eight and a half months, and then I had a little bit of a setback over the holidays. And so I had talked about it with him before. He figured I would probably have to come once a year. Wasn't 100 percent sure.

But for a normal, every day person who gets up and goes to their office and does whatever else, it's supposed to last two years -- treatment lasts for two years. But we are not quite sure when you're injecting golfers -- I was his first golfer.

So wasn't quite sure how long the procedure would last, the different things. I put in a lot of work over that period of time, and so I went back in January to get a tune-up, basically, because I knew I would probably have to go back a few months later and didn't want to go back when I started playing again.

So when I went back, I basically out of the eight spots he injected, I had six of them were good. I had two that I had some inflammation and basically the arthritis again into the facets; so six of them basically stayed the same. They were not lit up like a Christmas tree but we just went ahead and filled up the tank. I don't want to go back unless I have to.

Q. Five years out here is a career for some guys, imagine you're walking down the range and you're probably having to introduce yourself to a lot of these guys??

HANK KUEHNE: There's still a bunch of old guys out here. I've seen them. A bunch of the guys I know. I mean, I've also seen some guys that I'm not sure were driving a car the last time I was out here. There's some young guys. I mean, I don't know everybody. But for the most part I know most of the people. Kept in contact with most of them.

Q. What's the longest you went without touching a club? Did you ever consider quitting?

HANK KUEHNE: Of course I considered quitting. I gave up. I was done. After seeing 13 doctors, like I said and doing everything I could possibly do, doing everything that I was told to do, I'm seeing the best specialist that is we have in the country; and we can't help you.

Like I said, after having it taken away a couple of times -- having it taken away in the beginning and then you get your hopes up, and then you start to feel a little bit better and then one day, and you're right back to the same place. It's just like the door slams. To be honest, if it hurt, I could just deal with it. But actually having my heart broken over and over again, because it's what you love to do, that's that was the difficult part and too much to deal with.

Before last year, I mean, I pretty much had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to be able to play golf again. Had it not been for my dad who is sitting here, I wouldn't have gone to Germany. I didn't want to go. I didn't have a good attitude about going.

I'm like, well, what's this quack going to tell me that 13 guys here haven't told me. But I gave it one more chance, and I'm extremely blessed and extremely thankful that I actually did go. Because I got to the point where I didn't think I was going to be able to do it and if I was able to do it, I didn't think I was ever going to be able to play golf and do what you need to do in order to be ready to compete, and compete out here.

Maybe at some point, maybe down the road, I might get to where I might just be able to go out and play a fun round of golf with my family or friends, but I never thought I would be in a situation where I actually would be able to practice and compete and get myself ready to come back out here.

Q. What were you thinking of doing the rest of your life??

HANK KUEHNE: I mean, to be honest, I'm not really good at anything else. There's nothing else I want to do. I thought about doing some different things with my dad. My dad's got some different businesses and different things that I was maybe thinking about helping, get involved in. I'm definitely not the office type. I'm not a guy that's going to sit in an office. I'd get fired in a week.

I think that if I wasn't able to play, I would definitely have to get somehow involved back in the game in some respect or another, whether it be teaching, coaching or who knows. Maybe sitting in a booth somewhere talking about it, I don't know.

But the other hard part was until I actually got to the point where I was done, done, that was the last straw, I did not want to start focusing on what my next step was, because then I would have completely given up, one hundred, just moved on. So until I got to the point where I was forced to do, that I really didn't take that step to move forward to figure out what I was going to do. Nothing else I want to do.

Q. At what point did you start thinking about the business side of the TOUR card, earning the 600 whatever that you have to earn to stay out here??

HANK KUEHNE: I mean, to be honest, it's a thought but that's what Sherry and some other people can worry about. All I can do is worry about my golf game and play the best that I can play, and if I play good golf, I think that number is insignificant. It will take care of itself.

If I start thinking about, oh, I've got to make $176,200 this week, I mean, I'm not really focused on what I'm doing. So I'm just going to come out and play golf and do what I know how to do. I'm more than sure that all of that will take care of itself in the end.

DOUG MILNE: Lastly, one more question, obviously the support you probably got over the years from your peers out here really had to help sustain you, if you could just touch on that, and now that you're back out here, this week, what kind of response have you gotten from the guys that you've been plugging along with over the years??

HANK KUEHNE: I've had great response. I talked to -- there was only a few guys that I talked to for the three years, 3 1/2 years I didn't play. There was a handful of guys. They would always check on me and make sure I was doing okay.

Once I actually started practicing again, I've had tremendous support from all of my friends that I've known my whole life. We've got, whatever, 20 guys that are members up at Medalist and they play out here and, able to play and practice and hang out with them, and they have been able to help get me ready.

I was actually able to somewhat help get them ready to start their year while I was still getting ready to try and play. They have been great. I mean, I've had great response, especially from all of the TOUR staff and guys that I haven't seen in years. It's been a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to getting off to a good start this week and continuing onto see everybody.

DOUG MILNE: Hank, we appreciate your time, and welcome back.