Canadians have had very little to get excited about when it comes to the way their fellow citizens have played this year on the PGA Tour. But there was a bit of good news last week, because Graham DeLaet, Canada’s top player on the 2010 PGA Tour, got back on the course after undergoing back surgery in early January.
Now, DeLaet, 29, and a graduate of Boise State University, wasn’t playing a tournament. He was ambling around the course for nine holes with some Boise State golfers, and hitting half-shots with a wedge. DeLaet, who won $954,011 to finish 100th on the money list in his rookie season, carried only a wedge and a putter. But it was something. DeLaet was at least on a golf course.
DeLaet is a big, strong, self-taught player from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where he could run for mayor and win on a platform of offering golf lessons. They remember his wins in the 2005 and 2006 Saskatchewan Amateur, and his three wins on the Canadian Tour. He is a friendly fellow who loves to play golf, and he has been missing the game. That was clear during a recent conversation he had with Global Golf Post.
“I miss competing and the feeling of a well-struck shot,” DeLaet said from his home in Boise. “I miss just being on the course. It was so nice being on the course the other day.”
There was more than a wistful note in DeLaet’s tone of voice. After all, here is a golfer who had a superb rookie season and whose best finish was a tie for third at the Shell Houston Open in April. He practiced putting for three hours during the Viking Classic in early October, and felt something in his back. He realized something wasn’t right for sure when he hit some shots during the second and third rounds. He’d had lingering back issues for years, but this time he knew something was very wrong.
DeLaet felt he had to continue playing. He started the Fall Series in 129th place on the money list, and needed to get into the top 125 to maintain the fully exempt status for this year that he had earned for 2010 through qualifying school. He continued to play, but hardly practiced. Instead, well, he just played.
The emphasis there is on “played.” DeLaet didn’t work on his game. He “played” a game. And, oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly, he tied for fifth and sixth in two of his last four events, and for 18th and 25th in the other two. He played four consecutive tournaments with a back that was hurting and he easily finished inside the top 125 money-winners.
From there, DeLaet said he “tried everything to avoid surgery,” but made no progress. “It drains on you,” he said. “You wonder if you will ever play again.”
DeLaet realized he had no alternative but surgery. It wasn’t major surgery, but it was surgery, and to his back, and he is still a young man. He rehabbed according to the orders he was given, and at the same time he thought about the way he had played in the Fall Series while not practicing.
“I played some of the best golf I’d played all year,” he said. “I was hitting the ball well, considering that my back was always hurting. I need to figure out what was behind that.”
Was it that he was simply glad to be out on the course doing what he does best? “Golf,” he said, “is all I know.”
DeLaet didn’t watch much golf early this season. He loves Hawaii and Pebble Beach. He wanted to play The Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He wanted to be with his friends on the PGA Tour, including his fellow Canadians. One of them, 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, said last year that he considered DeLaet one of the top 10 ball-strikers on Tour.
As the winter wore on, DeLaet started to watch more golf. He watched some of last week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, and he got out on the course with his Boise State pals. He felt the itch to compete, but he knew he had to temper his enthusiasm.
“It’s still day to day and week to week,” DeLaet said. “But I feel I rounded a corner a couple of weeks ago.”
DeLaet is heading for Phoenix this week, where he will be in warmer weather and he will see where he stands as far as hitting full shots and playing. He needs to learn whether he can play 18 holes, and, if so, whether he can play 18 holes four days in a row.
“One day I feel great and the next day it’s not as good,” DeLaet said. “I’m definitely closer to being where I want to be, but I just don’t know.”
One thing is certain: Canadians will be watching closely to learn where he will next play a tournament – emphasis again on “play.” Spring is approaching and they hope DeLaet’s return to the big stage, where he showed such promise, is also close.