WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Graham DeLaet had heard one too many stories about athletes returning to competition too soon after suffering an injury. He didn’t want to be the subject of another cautionary tale.
In January of 2011, DeLaet, 30, had surgery to repair a chronic back problem that lingered from his days as a hockey player growing up in Canada. By late spring he had worked himself back to competitive form. Or so he thought.
He played one Nationwide Tour event and two PGA Tour events before deciding to go the safe route and take a major medical exemption for 2012.
“I think it was just a little bit too early,” said DeLaet after his 3-under opening round at the Greenbrier Classic Thursday. “I felt a lot better than I had, so I thought I was ready. I just really didn’t feel like I had it in me to practice enough to really feel like I could compete. That was really the main reason I shut it down.”
DeLaet still played on his own three or four times a week, and when the 2012 season rolled around, he was certain he was ready this time. With his major medical exemption, DeLaet had 26 events – nearly a full season — to make $657,694 to retain his card.
Already he has made most of it, with $554,670 in his bank account coming into the Greenbrier Classic. But DeLaet insisted that he didn’t look at this year in terms of a dollar amount.
“It’s basically a full year, so I was basically focusing on trying to put myself in contention to win and being top 25 this year,” he said. “I am close now, and it will just be nice to get out of that medical category.”
DeLaet, who ranks 10th on the Tour in driving distance (303.2), has made the cut in 12 of 17 events this year and has finished in the top 10 twice. His best showing was a T4 in New Orleans. Another solid round today will put him in the money for Greenbrier.
If there has been one frustration to DeLaet’s season, however, it has been the money he has lost. Big scores at inopportune times have cost him higher finishes in some recent tournaments.
At the Travelers Championship two weeks ago, he was at 8-under par, well within contention, heading into the final three holes of his third round. He took a six on the par-3 16th at TPC River Highlands and followed it with a bogey five on No. 17.
He got back to minus-6 early in his fourth round with a pair of birdies, but played the final 14 holes at 7-over – including a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 13th.
“It’s been like that for a couple months,” he said. “I really feel like I’ve been playing well, 16 holes kind of thing. At Travelers I did that. Last week at Congressional I was playing really well and tripled my 16th hole on Sunday.
“Today I played just the same as I have been, but I just didn’t have any of those triples or doubles and I shot 3-under.”
DeLaet stops short of declaring himself to be completely healthy. He will allow that he’s feeling a bit better every week thanks in large part to trainer Craig Davies and believes he can finish the season strong.
“Everyone out here has got little nagging injuries,” he said. “I’m still continuing to slowly get better and better, month by month. They’re real small steps, but I’m feeling good.
“I really feel like I’m playing well enough to be in contention if everything is clicking. That’s all you can really ask for.”
– Chuck Curti