Whether it was bad luck or a fluke injury, Michael Putnam’s 2011 PGA Tour season ended prematurely with his left wrist in a cast.
It might be silly to think Putnam can pick up where he left off, but that’s what he has in mind after eight months off from the PGA Tour.
Today, at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, Putnam will whether his golf game is up to top-flight competition. Positive signs came out of his last tune-up start:
• He tied for ninth last week at the Nationwide Tour’s TPC Stonebrae Championship in Hayward, Calif.
• Even though the “feel” shots of chipping and putting have been the slowest to return, he say his game feels surprisingly sharp.
• Not once did he look down, or think about his wrist during the event.
“I am 100 percent cleared,” Putnam said this week. “And I haven’t felt the wrist (aching) for a long time.”
One day last summer, during his run of seven consecutive made cuts in PGA Tour events, Putnam was on the driving range. An iron shot dug deep into the turf. He felt something in his left wrist.
A few weeks later, he felt pain so severe that he withdrew from The Greenbrier Classic after one round. Doctors said he had fractured the tiny lunate bone in his wrist, and that it would require almost three months in a cast.
So he went home to University Place. And stayed there.
“Yeah, in the beginning I was a little (angry) and depressed watching golf on television, and watching my friends do well,” Putnam said. “As time went on it was what it was.
“I knew I could not play, so I embraced being home. I got to be a house dad (with son, Jantzen). And it was nice to hang out in Tacoma. We did not sleep in our own bed (except) once in eight months.”
In late January, doctors deemed that his wrist had fully healed. He was cleared to resume golf-related activities, and he circled tournament dates on the Nationwide Tour starting two months later.
He was encouraged by last week’s finish after three rounds in the 60s.
“He is playing well,” said Andres Gonzales, Putnam’s close friend and the Nationwide Tour money leader. “He is hitting it very well. Michael’s biggest thing has always been putting.”
And what was Putnam’s biggest concern returning to professional golf?
“That I would have shot 80 every round,” Putnam said.
“Having not played in eight months, would I get it back? Last week proved it is back. It is not perfect. I am not in midseason form. But the form I am in, I can go out and shoot very good rounds.”
Putnam has selected this week’s event, next week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the HP Byron Nelson Championship (May 17-20) and the FedEx St. Jude Classic (June 7-10) as his four major medical-exemption events to try and keep his PGA Tour card the rest of this season.
To retain full-time status, Putnam must earn at least $269,766 (top 125 from last year). To keep partial playing privileges – which essentially would mean he could play another eight to 10 events this season – he would have to make $13,543 (top 150).
“Obviously I would love to win my first tournament out,” Putnam said. “I think I developed some perspective when I broke my wrist – I get to play golf for a living, no matter where it is, and I should embrace that. If it is not (on the PGA Tour), I will have plenty of opportunities to get there.”