T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
Rob Labritz in National Championship hunt four weeks removed from surgery
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Monday, June 23, 2014 | 5:25 p.m.
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Rob Labritz is truly happy to be at the PGA Professional National Championship this week, and not just because he's a participant and comfortably inside the cut line at 3-over 147 through 36 holes.
It's because it also means he's on the mend.
Labritz, 43, the PGA Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., is best known for the shot below. He holed out from 95 yards in a playoff at the 2013 National Championship from 95 yards to earn the final spot in the 2013 PGA Championship -- his fourth overall trip to the season's final major.
"There's a place in my teaching bay," Labritz explained. "There's this golf cart out there 95 to 108 yards. I ping it off the roof there all day with my assistant. When I had 95 yards left on that shot at Sunriver last year, I was like, 'Wow. This is the ping it off the roof shot.'
"I put a nice, comfortable swing on it and it was one of those shots that was just hit perfect -- and it went in and they caught it on TV. For the 30-40 years I've playing this game, everything came together in that moment. I think about it everyday. It keeps me moving. People say stuff to me. I'll be in an airport and someone might say, 'You're the guy that made that shot,' it's crazy stuff. I love it."
That shot has been highlighted many times leading up to this week's National Championship, but having Labritz back is extra special because he's here less than one month following surgery to have his thyroid removed on May 27 after being afflicted with Graves Disease.
"It all started last year," Labritz said. "I started feeling funky on the golf course. When I would follow through, I'd start to shake. When I won Met PGA Player-of-the-Year last year, as I was putting my last putt out -- I had a 4- or 5-shot lead -- but I was really shaking. I said to myself, 'Wow. I must be really nervous.' After that, I said to my wife, 'I think I'm done playing, especially competitively. I can't go through this all the time. It's just not fun.' I didn't feel good."
Labritz's wife, Kerry, suggested that her husband pay a visit to the doctor's office and get checked out. After a blood test, the doctor told Labritz he had a thyroid problem. After more tests, it was determined he had Graves Disease, which is when the thyroid "is just screaming out hormones -- crazy, like off the charts," he explained.
All told, Labritz -- an incredibly fit man before all this began -- lost 47 pounds that he didn't exactly have to lose.
"Can you imagine being on hyperdrive all the time?" Labritz said. "I was in fight-or-flight mode pretty much 24/7 for about a year, year and a half and didn't even know it," he said. "My heart was 95 beats per minute resting. I was walking the fairways really fast and barking at my caddie to keep up. It was just one of those things where I was in overdrive and didn't know it."
And that was the reason for the surgery. No one wants something wrong health-wise, but when something's not right, it's at least comforting to be able to give it a name.
"There were three options since it was Graves Disease: take the thyroid out, radiate it, or live with it and medicate it," Labritz said. "I didn't want to radiate it and I didn't want to live with it and take medication the rest of my life, so I had it removed. It's been four weeks now and I'm feeling much better. After losing 47 pounds, I've already put 15 pounds back on."
Let that sink in. Four weeks ago, Labritz was under the knife. On Monday, he shot a 1-under 71 at Grande Dunes in the second round of the National Championship to get to 3-over, will comfortably make the halfway cut and has a chance to make a run at a fifth PGA Championship berth.
Right now, Labritz estimates, he's playing at 70 percent strength.
"When you lose that much weight, you get weak," he said. "I was weak. It was bad. I've been doing two-a-day workouts. I do 45 minutes to an hour in the morning and 45 minutes to an hour at night. Just total muscle building and some cardio. The shakes are gone on the course -- now it's just the nervous part. Everybody's nervous, but nervous is good. I can hit putts and not shake anymore."
Labritz said he came into this week -- his first start since recovering from surgery -- expecting nothing. But, ever since he was cleared by his doctors to workout and practice two weeks ago, he's been full tilt.
"All my days were very regimented -- they were long days," he said. "But I worked out and I practiced -- even though I didn't feel great and they said don't push it -- I used every minute to get ready for this. I'm playing all right.
"I went from not having any expectations to actually starting to hit the ball really good and not making any putts," he added. "I found myself getting frustrated out there and I'm like, 'Dude, you don't have any right!' But that's what golf does to you. And of course, now that I'm hitting it well I want to make some putts and win."
Since the surgery, Labritz said he has to take a pill every morning that he will take for the rest of his life.
"They said I'm living with a disease, but it's not a disease that's going to kill you, unless it's not taken care of," he said. "It makes me live each day better, because you never know what's going to happen. Stuff happens all the time. You've got to go day by day. It's crazy.
"This whole situation has put things in perspective for me. I'm taking things slower. I'm walking the fairways slower. I'm going to enjoy relationships more and try to never do anything wrong. I don't want to do anything wrong. The world is just a better place when people act right."