By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com Contributor
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- It could have been a whole lot worse.
When Rory McIlroy took a full swing from the rough during the opening round of the PGA Championship and hit a tree root a few inches in front of his ball, a collective gasp went out among golf fans. Careers have been ended by less. Sure, it wasn’t Lawrence Taylor breaking Joe Theismann’s leg, but in golf terms, injuring a wrist on a tree root is about as scary as it gets.
He came back on Friday (although no one was sure of his condition until he walked to the 10th tee to start his round), and didn’t play particularly well. But the four-footer he made on the ninth, his final hole, to shoot 73 and make the cut for the weekend was far less important than the fact that the wrist appeared to be okay.
“It was frustrating because I was thinking about it all day,” McIlroy said afterward when asked about the wrist, which he kept wrapped throughout the round. “I’m worried about it because I feel as if I can’t play to the best of my abilities with it.”
He gauged his abilities at about 75 percent. And while his putting was the main culprit in the 3-over-par round on Friday, he doesn’t believe that the wrist had anything to do with his touch on the greens.
“My speed has been off all week, especially the last couple of days,” he said. “To be honest, I just don’t feel that comfortable on these greens. I might do a bit of work this afternoon to try to figure something out.”
Hopefully he can figure out how lucky he is to still be playing, not just this week, but for the rest of the year and beyond.
Phil Mickelson injured his left wrist hitting shots from the long rough in 2007 and missed three cuts in a row, including the U.S. and British Opens, and finished tied for 38th in the PGA Championship. Michelle Wie injured her right wrist hitting a shot off a cart path in 2006. She did not fully recover until 2009. And Trevor Immelman suffered a wrist injury not long after his 2008 Masters win. He is just now returning to form.
According to a study of 225 professional golfers conducted by the Hughston Sports Medicine Clinic, 34 percent of high-level golfers suffered from some incidence of wrist and hand injuries, most involving soft tissue, cartilage, bone, nerve, and vascular structures. These injuries ranged in severity from moderately painful to career ending.
Remember Franklin Langham? The top-30 player in 2000 struggled through a wrist injury that led to a swing change that led to a collapse in confidence. Langham is now out the game.
“The confidence is the toughest thing,” Immelman said. “The injury can be completely healed, but until you do the things that you once did enough times to feel comfortable, it’s difficult to feel like you’re there.”
McIlroy admits that he made a mistake in taking on a tree root the size of a grown anaconda.
“Yeah, looking back on it, hindsight is a great thing,” he said. “It was a mistake in judgment. I thought I would be able to get away with it, let go of the club at impact and hopefully it would be okay. But it’s hard to let go at the right moment; the club is coming down so fast. I just let go a little big late and jarred the wrist with the tree root.
“I didn’t think for a moment that there would be any structural damage, or I hoped not anyway,” he admitted. “Of course it was a relief to see (the scans). They told me it had a little bit of fluid, a bit of edema, it’s a slight strain and you should be okay. Now, it’s more uncomfortable than painful.”
Perhaps a little discomfort is just what the doctor ordered. McIlroy will definitely think twice before taking a swing around immovable objects again. He was lucky this time. Hopefully there won’t be a next.
“If it wasn’t a major I probably would have stopped yesterday,” he said after Friday’s round. “But, you know, I’m not worried about it long term. At worst, it should take a few weeks to heal.”