U.S. AMATEUR
Long Road Back For Bramlett, Swafford August 24, 2010 By Stuart Hall

University Place, Wash. — With expectation can come impatience. And those who can keep the two separated are often better for having done so.

Both Joseph Bramlett and Hudson Swafford are on the recovery side of injuries that put a speed bump in their respective careers. Bramlett suffered two freakish right wrist injuries that cost him the better part of two years worth of competition; Swafford endured surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder, and lost what would have been his senior year at the University of Georgia.

While the time away tried their patience, the resulting time off delivered them an appreciation for what they had and returned them bright expectations for this week’s 110th U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay and the future.

Bramlett, 22, of Saratoga, Calif., advanced to Thursday’s second round of match play with a 4-and-3 win over Mike Miller. Swafford, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla., frittered away a 3-up lead through 15 holes to win in 19 holes over Harry Rudolph III.

Each player, in his own way, recognizes the ardor of this week does not compare with what they have gone through physically and, to some extent, psychologically.

I have always been pretty patient, but being injured really forces your patience more than you expect, said Bramlett, a recent Stanford University graduate. I just knew it would take time and I felt like I had already given enough time and wondered why didn’t [the game] come back right away.

In 2002, at age 14, Bramlett was the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Amateur. And, fair or not, over the next several years would routinely be linked to Tiger Woods — both being Californians, sons of mulitracial parents and collegians at Stanford. Whereas Woods postered his bedroom with Jack Nicklaus benchmarks, Bramlett’s standard was Woods.

And after an All-American freshman season that helped Stanford win a national championship, individual NCAA and USGA championships were surely in Bramlett’s grasp, just as they were for Woods.

A firm hold of such expectations, however, turned painful.

The first wrist injury, a bone bruise, occurred midway through his sophomore season when he slipped in the weight room. Just as he was about to return to full strength, he flipped over his bike’s handlebars, injured tendons and ligaments in the wrist and was out 13 more months. So after making 13 starts as a freshman, he made just 15 in his final three seasons, ending his collegiate career with a tie for 95th at the 2010 NCAA Championship.

This week marks just his fourth USGA championship appearance since 2007. He also qualified for the U.S. Open in June.  

Bramlett, who will turn professional soon after this week’s amateur championship, won the Northeast Amateur earlier this summer, bolstering a confidence that was only slightly shaken through the ordeal.

[The win] did a lot because it was my first win back from injury, I felt like the game had been toying with me, he said. Coming back I was working hard on my game but wasn’t seeing the kind of results I expected of myself.

Swafford’s disabled list story is not quite as extensive as Bramlett, but no less severe. The injury manifested from his days as a high school baseball player. In the intervening years the pain worsened, finally to the point he had difficulty picking up a club at the 2009 Porter Cup. Surgery was recommended and performed nearly a year ago.

For a couple months it was nice, I just walked around with my arm in a sling in 90-degree weather, he said. Quite honestly I liked the break. The first of the year I had the itch to get back, but didn’t push myself. I had everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Swafford, the 2008 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and a multiple All-American who joined Bramlett as a U.S. Open qualifier, played his first 18-hole round in late April. He might have been able to help the Bulldogs in the post-season and then graduated, but the lure of possibly winning a national championship with teammates Russell Henley and Harris English in 2011 led him to take a medical redshirt season.

When you lose something you really love, you have a different perspective when you come back, he said. I have developed a real appreciation for my successes, and I think it would be nice to win a national title with these guys.

As odd as it may seem, Swafford is grateful for the injury.

I’m glad I got the surgery because I think in the long run I’ll be a better player, he said.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.