Injuries are as much a part of sports as the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, and can rear their ugly head at the most inappropriate times. Professional athletes, in particular, have the mindset to play through these injuries because of the fear of being labeled soft, losing their job, or because they love the competition and want to play. Golf, however, is a little different.
Due to the nature of golf injuries, players are more cautious. Backs, shoulders, and wrists are the common areas that can sideline a golfer, but occasionally the golfer will get a freak accident, like one of my players, who strained his oblique muscle taking the top off of his deodorant. In 2008, my golfer, Jeff Overton had an unusual and untimely series of unfortunate events, and exhibited one of the toughest performances I’ve ever seen in sports, much less golf.
There were three tournaments remaining at the end of the 2008 season, and we were playing a practice round at Grayhawk Golf Club for the Frys.com Open in Scottsdale. Jeff was just outside the top 125 on the money list, and he needed to play well to keep his playing privileges for the next season. Not long after we teed off, Jeff started complaining that he was having sharp pains in his side. After a little discussion, it was determined that the pain was originating on the right side of his abdomen, which made me nervous, immediately thinking of his appendix.
He finished the front nine in pain, and then finally decided to go get it checked out. About four hours later, I received a call from his agent saying that Jeff had an emergency appendectomy and that he was obviously withdrawing from the tournament. I was speechless.
He was at the hospital in Scottsdale for a couple of days, and I went to visit him. After doing some research, and determining that this type of surgery usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to fully recover from, I suggested taking a medical leave of absence, which would leave us two tournaments at the start of the following year to make up the money needed to keep his card. Jeff agreed, and in a couple of days we were both back home.
A few days later, Jeff called with more bad news. The Tour was unwilling to give him a medical exemption because he had already played 30 events…enough, they determined, to be considered a full year. That meant if he didn’t play the last few tournaments, he was going to lose his card.
He decided to go to Florida for the next event, despite have a pile of stitches on the inside, a pile of staples on the outside, and really needing to rest for a couple of weeks. He showed up Tuesday night, ONE week after major surgery, and met me at the course Wednesday to “possibly” practice. He looked awful, and when I saw him try to hit balls, I knew this wasn’t going to happen. Every time he tried to hit even a soft wedge, he doubled over in pain as if being punched in the stomach. Predictably, the extent of his practice session was about five range balls. He looked dejected and defeated, but we decided to show up the next morning for our tee time anyway … just in case.
Thursday morning, I arrived 100-percent convinced there would be no golf for us, and if by some miracle there was, it would be a quick withdrawal. As our tee time neared, Jeff decided there was no harm in giving it a shot (the doctor gave him a reluctant “OK”), so he teed off and promptly three bounced his drive into the right trap, which was 235 yards off the tee. He had 140 yards to a back pin for his second shot and hit a 6-iron 30 yards short of the green. He then proceeded to hit a wedge 70 feet short of the hole. The next hole went back to the clubhouse and I figured that’s where our day would end. He got over his putt, lined it up, and quite unexpectedly drained it for par! The jolt of adrenaline was just what he needed, and despite doubling over with each shot, he managed to continue.
Somehow he birdied two of the next three holes, which included two more really long putts, and was actually leading the tournament. With each hole, he seemed to gain more and more power in his swing. What was my contribution to the day? Getting the ball out of the hole for him 18 times. He became the topic of conversation for all the players and caddies.
Each day after, he continuously gained strength, and by the end of the tournament had finished in a remarkable tie for 18th place. It was crazy! He made around $50,000 to move up to exactly 125 on the money list with one week remaining. It was one of the most courageous four rounds of golf I’ve ever seen, considering what was on the line.
The following week, at Disney, I knew he was feeling better since he started throwing tantrums after poor shots, and wasn’t doubling over as violently. But Jeff was awesome when the odds were against him, and managed to finish in a tie for 21st. He made another $50,000, and secured his card for the 2009 season. It was so gratifying to be a part of, and I’ll never forget the toughness and fortitude Jeff displayed over those last two weeks. Let’s just say it was as “gutsy” a performance as you’ll ever see.
Chris Mazziotti is a veteran Tour caddy of more than 20 years. He currently loops for Paul Goydos. He has worked all four majors on the PGA Tour, and has caddied for players such as Brian Henninger, David Gossett, Brandt Jobe and others. Mazziotti currently resides in Milwaukee, Wis. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.