Suzanne Pettersen returns to competition today in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco – her first competitive round in a month after a back injury – just in time to ride the ever-growing wave of popularity the LPGA Tour is experiencing.
Winners so far this year include Jessica Korda, a resurgent Anna Nordqvist, Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, Paula Creamer (with a 75-foot putt in a playoff that sparked an emotional dance viewed more than a million times on YouTube), and, most recently, Michelle Wie. Mike Whan couldn’t have scripted a better opening quarter.
The only move-the-needle superstars missing from the winner’s circle so far are Stacy Lewis, whose scoliosis backstory and in-person charm bring kids out in droves, and Pettersen, the hottest player at the end of last year and the best overall athlete in the women’s game.
I last saw Suzann at La Costa, the Carlsbad, California, resort that used to host the Tournament of Champions and is now considered the “healthiest” destination in the San Diego area. She was staying at the lodge with her boyfriend before the start of the Kia Classic, but I could tell that something was amiss. She wasn’t her usual witty self.
The next day she withdrew and hasn’t been seen again until now.
“Unfortunately I injured my back the Monday after Phoenix to the point where playing golf was out of the question,” she said. “I missed Carlsbad; very unfortunate I missed Kraft, definitely one of my favorite tournaments out of the year; and a shame not to be able to defend in Hawaii last week.
“But sometimes you’ve’ just got to address the challenges you’re facing. For me, it was just to get my back as close to normal as possible so I don’t miss too much of the season.”
Pettersen’s back problems aren’t new to her – she had a disc issue a decade ago – but since then she has been as strong and healthy as ever.
“I’ve never looked at myself as a person with a back problem,” she said.
One false move changed all that.
“I happened to bend over and I felt, bending over, it snapped,” she said.
Crippling pain kept her virtually bedridden for two weeks and away from golf for three. After that she worked with David Leadbetter to get back into competitive shape before flying to San Francisco.
Little things like sitting in a chair are still a challenge, but she can’t wait to get onto the course.
“Just really happy in general to be out playing,” she said. “I was trying to make it for Hawaii, but at the same time, I can’t rush something that I can’t control. … It really makes you appreciate what you can do. It’s nice to get dressed yourself.”