ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Brandt Snedeker talks fast, walks fast, plays golf fast … the last thing he ever wants to do is have to take things slowly. But that’s exactly where he is, and what he’s facing, at this week’s RSM Classic at Sea Island, as he returns from a painful and mysterious sternum injury that has kept him off the golf course since early summer.
Snedeker, 36, an eight-time PGA Tour winner and the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, walked off the practice tee on Wednesday of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, and he hasn’t competed since. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d shown up to a regular-season PGA Tour event on a Monday, but there he was at Sea Island, getting himself ready for the long week and impending uncertainty that lies ahead.
Snedeker has been playing at home in Nashville – 25 holes three straight days – and now it’s time to test himself as he assesses where he stands heading into 2018.
“Yeah, semi-retirement’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Snedeker said. “It’s been a long time. It’s fun to be back, kind of realize what you miss, and I’m probably the most excited guy in the field this week to be playing again.
“I was out here all day yesterday practicing. I can’t remember the last time I was here on a Monday practicing for a tournament. So it’s fun to be back. It’s fun to kind of see where my game stands.”
When he left, his game was in pretty nice shape. Snedeker, now ranked 47th in the world, felt as if his ballstriking under instructor John Tillery was in the best shape it had been in for some time. His play had been steady. He was solid on a bombers’ track at Erin Hills, tying for ninth at the U.S. Open, and shot a closing 64 at Travelers the next week, tying for 14th.
Then at Birkdale, he hit a breaking point. The impact made when he struck a golf ball took his breath, the vibration traveling through his arms and into his chest, “like a tuning fork hitting it every time,” he said. He felt as if his sternum was broken.
He has seen 14 doctors in about as many weeks to find out the root and cause of his pain, which doctors tell him is the type they normally see in athletes from contact sports. The repetitive nature of what he does to strike a golf ball has caused the joint in his sternum to get inflamed, and it renders him painfully sore. He said his chest sternum began moving “independently of each other.” If he hit a golf ball and waited 10 minutes, he was fine. But when he hit ball after ball, it hurt to breathe, and hurt him to move.
Funny, in every other activity in his life, Snedeker said he remains unencumbered. He can work out, or lift his children into the air. It’s only the golf that causes the pain. That’s his livelihood. And that, in itself, hurts as much as his physical injury.
“I’ve had injuries before, and there’s always been a start-stop date,” he said. “You know, ‘six weeks and you can hit balls,’ whatever it might be. This is the first time where I had an injury where literally doctors are going, ‘I don’t know. I can’t tell you a date when you can get back to playing. We have to wait and see.’ That was probably the worst thing you can tell a golfer, is just wait and see, because you want to be able to go hit balls and practice and kind of get back at it, and they’re telling you (that) you can’t do it. That was probably the toughest part of it.”
That, and the fact he’s 36, in good shape otherwise, and has some things he’d like to accomplish in this game. He had a hard time watching the playoffs, and couldn’t take seeing all his buddies rolling so well without him at the Presidents Cup.
Snedeker has a nice history at Sea Island. He played the golf courses there in the SEC Championship when he was at Vanderbilt, and even lived on Sea Island for a spell as a younger pro. He would play and practice at nearby Frederica, and has played Seaside, one of the tournament courses, he says, “hundreds of times.”
The injury has led him to make some significant changes. He and Tillery have worked to adjust his setup and round off his swing to alleviate some of the pain he was feeling in his chest, making his base more solid and stable. To prevent inflammation in the sternum joint, he also has transitioned to a “boring” diet of vegetables, as he’s limiting his intake of sugars and his carbs. If he gets down the road to visit Southern Soul, the famed local eatery, later this week, he’s likely limited to sampling a little smoked chicken.
“I miss French fries like crazy,” he said. “I don’t know why, I’ve always loved French fries.”
For all the uncertainty of his injury and his future – he’ll assess how he feels at week’s end, but said the potential of surgery is not yet off the table – and the inherent anxiety intertwined with an athlete’s return, there also is some optimism that competing again gives him. He’s back, and at a familiar place, competing in “Uncle Davis’ tournament.” In some ways, it’s a new beginning.
“I feel like I’m starting this new season ballstriking-wise in a great place, feel like I’m hitting it the best I’ve ever hit it,” Snedeker said. “So I’m excited about stepping in and playing some good golf, and I firmly believe that my best golf’s still ahead of me. I’m looking forward to showing it off this week.”