Notebook: Watson Never Thought He'd Play Again


By Ken Klavon, USGA
July 28, 2007

Kohler, Wis. - A bogey-free round in a U.S. Senior Open should be cause for celebration.

When it's melded into life's vagaries, it becomes somewhat immaterial. That's not to suggest Denis Watson's 5-under 67 Saturday, which included fives birdies against no bogeys, was ignored. Because Watson beamed afterward as he made his way from the scorer's area. Still, he's thankful he can even swing a club these days.

The 51-year-old South African has spent more time in medical and rehabilitation wards than on the course the past 15 years. The surgical knife had derailed a decent career that saw him play in 302 events - most of them on the PGA Tour - between 1980 through 1996. So being on the course is more a moral victory than anything else.

In all, he's had at least 10 surgeries. He's lost count. All but two were golf related. The injury bugaboo essentially began in 1987 while playing in the Goodyear Classic in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He went to hit his ball out of rough but instead jarred himself on a hidden tree stump. It began a litany of ailments. For starters, he broke his wrist but didn't know it for more than a year when a doctor made the diagnosis. Nerve damage had ensued. There was more.

"When I hit this tree stump, I whiplashed my neck sideways," said Watson. "It was such a violent sort of obstruction. That I ended up having, I lost all my right shoulder, I lost 70 percent of my strength and my muscle mass in the right shoulder. I couldn't move my scapula. That caused swing problems. And I did all kind of stuff."

By that time he had experienced pain in his elbow, an offshoot of the wrist injury. It led to surgeries to repair cartilage in the wrist and the ulnar nerve in his elbow. It was serious.

"I was told I would never be able to play golf again if I had to have this wrist surgery, by an orthopedic surgeon,"

said Watson. "And I'll never forget that day because it was devastating."

He rehabilitated for six months, six to eight hours a day, until he finally got back on the course. But his woes weren't over. To compensate for the arm and wrist pain, Watson had developed back discomfort. A third surgery - cervical fusion - followed in 1991. When he went in for the surgery, there was more damage than originally anticipated. He woke up in a body brace, wearing a halo and his head strapped to the back of a steel plate.

"I said, 'What the heck is this?'" said Watson. " 'What's going on here?' And [the doctor] said, 'Well, it was a little more difficult than we thought and you're going to have to wear this thing for six weeks.'"

He rehabbed some more. Feeling better, he started hitting balls but took a couple years off. While on sabbatical, Watson suffered a freak accident when he tore tendons in a foot while trying to catch his 2-year-old son, who in turn, had been falling in a boat. Under the knife again to fix the tendons. Two knee procedures, one shoulder operation and an appendectomy later, Watson had lost about 15 years of his golf career. He played in just 30 events in that time, unsure whether he'd ever compete again.

"It was tough being told you can't play another year with another surgery," said Watson.

Watson would get down. Mope at times. His wife of nine years, Susan Loggans, wouldn't have any of it.

"Denis would get very frustrated and I would say two things: one, God would show him the way and, two, he had already proven he had talent and he was a winner," she said Saturday.

Watson gradually started feeling better, swinging fluidly pain-free. Three years ago he played some events on the Nationwide Tour as a two-pronged test. First he wanted to see if he still had enough talent to compete, and secondly, he was hoping to use that experience as a springboard for the Champions Tour. Two years ago when he was eligible to play based on a Champions Tour exemption category, he appeared in one event. He missed most of the following year after undergoing right shoulder surgery, which sidelined him until his first event in October. He appeared in just three tournaments. He also went back to the Nationwide Tour to compete.

This year, with the prospects of returning to Q-School looming, Watson won the Senior PGA Championship. He felt reborn. More important, he feels happy just to be back.

"People don't realize how hard golf is to play day in, day out," said Watson. "The mental grind that you can put yourself through if you're not in the right space. It can get you down and, you know, I've been there, and I've been on the other side. I like the other side."

What's In A Number

After a third straight 73, former champion Peter Jacobsen's mind was on a different number. Actually, since the calendar marked triple sevens Saturday - July being the seventh month, seventh day in 2007 - the amiable one found meaning.

"This was supposed to be our 30 thwedding anniversary," he said of his marriage to wife Jan.

Back in 1976, Jacobsen had proposed to his wife and the two had set July 7, 1977 as their marriage date. But instead, Jacobsen ended up securing his PGA Tour card on Dec. 28, 1976, which meant he'd be busy that July date working.

Where's He Been?

Craig Stadler has muddled along ostensibly out of sight this week. But 'The Walrus' has strung together three decent rounds that has left him level par entering the fourth round. Part of the problem has been consistency and not knowing where to place his tee shots, he said. More than that, he hasn't putted well. He took 32 putts Saturday, which increased his putting average to 1.70 for the championship.

"I'm making so many mistakes it's ridiculous," he said after carding a 1-under round Saturday. "Today I had a lot of opportunities. I'm not making putts. You know, I'm making birdies, but then I follow them up with a bogey. If I'm not doing that, I'm following a bogey with a birdie, which is good I guess. If only I could get my mind-frame flipped where I'd birdie and not do the other stuff."

Taking Its Toll

Like Watson, Jacobsen could be a walking billboard for injuries. Since winning the 2004 Senior Open at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis just months after having his right hip replaced, Jacobsen has continually battled the injury bug. He underwent a knee procedure later that season, had his other hip replaced nine months ago and had laser surgery on his back three months ago to correct sciatic nerve pain. He hasn't played a full season yet since becoming eligible for the Champions Tour in 2004. Is he frustrating?

"It has been," said Jacobsen. "I believe a good attitude is everything in life, whether it has to do with your next shot, next hole or next day. It's disappointing to see guys over 50 acting like 12 year olds out there."

Quote Of The Day

"Yeah, I was in the rough over there. And I hit a bad shot, yeah. It's in the rough. But, wow, it's a good hole this 18. It's cost me a lot of money."

Eduardo Romero, following a triple bogey on the hole Friday with a bogey on it Saturday.

Quote Of The Day II

"It may be a little farfetched, but if I'm this close, I might as well shoot for the top prize."

John Ross, a non-exempt player on the Champions Tour, after his 2-under round Saturday put him in a tie for third, four strokes off the lead.

Hard Hole

The 450-yard, par-418 thhole proved to be a difficult finisher Saturday. Statistically-speaking, it played the hardest, skewering players to the tune of a 4.726 scoring average. It gave up just one birdie but plenty of bogeys (26) and double bogeys (seven). Scott Simpson had one of those double bogeys, offering a wry smile after signing his 78 scorecard.

"Just look at it," said Simpson. "It's not fair."

Simpson attributed the high scores on the hole to the downhill landing area just prior to the green. Players can't be caught on the right side of the fairway or dunes and hills await.

Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org.

 

 
Considering what he's been through, Denis Watson is lucky to be playing golf again . (John Mummert/USGA)
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