Earlier this season, PGA Tour competitor Ryan Palmer wondered if he could regain the form and focus needed to continue his recent run of success at the Dean & Deluca Invitational, an event near and dear to his heart.
But thanks to some recent good news, on and off the course, the Colleyville resident no longer questions whether he can contend in Thursday's opening round at Colonial Country Club, a venue Palmer knows better than any competitor in the field because he is a Colonial member.
Palmer acknowledged that he endured "a rough go" for most of two months after returning in January to tour competition following an extended break to be with his wife, Jennifer, in her battle with breast cancer. He missed the cut in his first four events of 2017, lost confidence in his putting stroke and found his mind wandering to issues back home when he was on the course.
That has changed, Palmer said, since he tweaked his approach on the greens with help from Dave Stockton and since Jennifer's latest medical update: she's on track to have her final treatment in August and start a maintenance medication because the disease appears to be in remission.
"I think the scare is behind us," Palmer said Tuesday. "All is good. She's doing great. We've got some pretty exciting weeks ahead, starting with this one."
Palmer, who has cracked the top-5 at Colonial in three of the past five years, envisions grabbing the plaid jacket that eluded him last season. Palmer, 40, held the lead with 10 holes to play in last year's final round before a back-nine birdie barrage by Jordan Spieth, the eventual champion, rearranged the final standings.
Boosted by some recent strong finishes at the RBC Heritage (11th place) and Valero Texas Open (sixth), as well as a fourth-place finish while teamed with Spieth at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Palmer believes that all facets of his golf game finally are functioning in tandem for Colonial week.
"The golf game is good. The mental game is getting better and better," Palmer said. "I'm not going to worry about that any more, knowing that she's going to be healthy. I can let go and play better golf."
For Palmer, the on-course resurgence began after huddling with Stockton, the 1967 Colonial champ, during a tour even in February. A noted putting guru, Stockton urged Palmer to alter his approach on the greens. By his own admission, Palmer returned with "some bad habits" after taking a golf hiatus from September to January following Jennifer's diagnosis.
Even now, Palmer ranks only 190th among tour competitors in putts per round (29.82), with a second-round average of 30.73. But the numbers are trending in the right direction.
"When I came back, it was scary," Palmer said. "My hands got a little active in my stroke. Dave brought a more mental approach to things, putting with my eyes and not so much with my hands. That started freeing me up."
As was the case last year, Palmer said he expects an emotional week in front of friends and club members who have been "awesome" in support of the family in recent months. A year ago, the same individuals were there for Palmer as he competed in his first Colonial following the death of his father, Butch, in a car accident.
Palmer finished third at last year's Colonial, his best career placement, and broke even-par 70 in all four rounds.
Palmer said golf, at times, has been "my getaway" in difficult moments and he hopes to tap into that emotion again this week. Michael Tothe, Colonial tournament director, said a Palmer victory would be well-received by the folks wearing plaid jackets during Sunday's trophy presentation.
"It would be amazing," Tothe said. "Ryan is certainly capable and we've seen that. That would be a very heart-felt win for our membership."
This article is written by Jimmy Burch from Fort Worth Star-Telegram and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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