De­laet’s de­light

In­side the Cana­dian’s re­turn to the PGA Tour

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - JON MCCARTHY

LAS VE­GAS — Af­ter four holes on Thurs­day at the Shriners Open, Gra­ham De­laet was five over par. And he was happy.

It has been a long and painful road back. This week in Las Ve­gas, the 37-year-old golfer made his re­turn to com­pet­i­tive golf af­ter nearly two years off with an in­jured back that has re­quired two surg­eries and stem cell in­jec­tions. He told Post­media ear­lier this week that, in all hon­esty, he didn’t know if he was ready.

The first shot of his come­back went 318 yards down the mid­dle of the fair­way. Great. The sec­ond shot was a bladed wedge that flew over the green. Not so great.

Af­ter a bo­gey on the first hole, he fol­lowed it with a triple bo­gey at third and an­other dropped shot at the fourth. Cu­ri­ous on­look­ers were a lit­tle wor­ried. Turns out, De­laet wasn’t. “It kind of put things into per­spec­tive,” he said af­ter his round. “Like, I’m over par so much early and I wasn’t even mad. I was out there hav­ing fun. I’m out here on the PGA Tour again.”

When asked how he felt on the course, he an­swered, “un­com­fort­able.” But it wasn’t his back he was talk­ing about, it was the but­ter­flies in his stom­ach.

“Just nerves, I felt like I was re­ally grip­ping the put­ter tight early and I wasn’t com­pletely let­ting things go and then just not re­ally trust­ing it,” he said. “It’s just been so long. You play all the lit­tle money games with your bud­dies back home, but it’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent on this stage.”

For starters, most of his rounds at home con­sist of a golf cart and a cou­ple of cold beers, which does sound much more com­fort­able.

“Once I just kind of started swing­ing more ag­gres­sively, it kind of came to­gether on the back nine,” he said.

De­laet fin­ished the day shoot­ing a four-over-par 75, which isn’t bad con­sid­er­ing he was five-over through four holes. The Wey­burn, Sask., na­tive made three con­sec­u­tive birdies be­gin­ning at hole No. 13. His other birdie of the day came when he nearly aced the 193-yard par-3 fifth hole, stick­ing his shot within a foot of the hole.

“I’m pretty happy that I was able to hang in there and at least make it some­what re­spectable,” he said.

As for his in­jured back, De­laet said it wasn’t re­ally a prob­lem. In gen­eral, he can swing the golf club pain-free, it’s more the walk­ing and be­ing on his feet all day that causes some trou­ble. Through­out the round, he was spot­ted stretch­ing and twist­ing be­fore and af­ter a few shots. On the ninth tee, he was about to hit his drive be­fore he abruptly stepped away.

“I got a lit­tle bit of a twinge or what­ever but it kind of went away in like five sec­onds,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be 100%. I’m go­ing to have to play through a lit­tle bit of pain but it was more tight­ness than pain.”

If his body al­lows him, the plan is to play next week’s Hous­ton Open, and then play PGA Tour stops in Ber­muda and Mex­ico in Novem­ber. Those events, he hopes, will al­low him to get the rust off and give him the con­fi­dence to play a more com­plete sched­ule in the new year.

De­laet is play­ing on a ma­jor med­i­cal ex­emp­tion this sea­son. He has 24 starts on the PGA Tour to earn 266 Fedex Cup points, which com­bined with the 110 points he earned prior to his in­jury in 2017 would equal the num­ber earned by the 125th player from that sea­son. Should he reach that num­ber he will se­cure his tour card for the 2020-21 sea­son.

Af­ter nearly two years at home, wak­ing up with the fam­ily and tak­ing the kids to school each day, he ad­mits it’s go­ing to take a while to get back into the swing of things on the PGA Tour. This week he for­got to change the time zone on his ipad, so the alarm he set on Wed­nes­day night for 4:15 a.m. was ac­tu­ally 3:15 a.m. And then he woke up 30 min­utes early at 2:45 a.m. for his 7 a.m. tee time.

“I’ve been awake a long time,” he said. “I don’t even have a rou­tine right now. I don’t know what I’m do­ing out here.”

It doesn’t mat­ter. The beard is back, and the man was smil­ing.

GETTY Im­ages

Gra­ham De­laet of Wey­burn, Sask., hits off the sev­enth tee dur­ing the first round of the Shriners Hospi­tals for Chil­dren Open in Las Ve­gas yes­ter­day.

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