Tulsa, Okla. This has been a lost year for Arron Oberholser. He enjoyed his breakthrough moment last year when he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He's a Bay Area guy, a local, who played college golf at nearby San Jose State.
He is a throwback, a shotmaker who wins with guile and finesse, not 320-yard bombs, but he doesn't have much to show for 2007. A back problem sidelined him early this year he couldn't even try to defend his title at Pebble Beach and eventually forced him into a strenuous rehabilitation program that has helped his strength, fitness and back.
As soon as his back improved, however, he broke the hamate bone in his left hand. The injury requires three weeks to heal properly, but Oberholser has not had time for a rest. Not with the British Open at Carnoustie, not with Oberholser exempt into the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone last week, and not with the PGA Championship this week at Southern Hills.
He can play with the injury, and obviously he can play well. He posted a two-under 68 Thursday, which tied his low score in this event. Not bad for a guy who's just trying to finish this season in one piece.
"I can't wait for the year to end," Oberholser said. "I want to rest. I never know when this fractured hamate bone is going to creep up and start bugging me again. It's behaved itself for the most part, but I haven't prepared or practiced like I normally would going into this week."
Favoring the left wrist has led to tendinitis in both elbows. All he needs is rest, but again, duty calls. The four-week test that is the inaugural FedEx Cup is about to begin. This is no time to rest.
"The more I play, the more it tends to ache," he said.
Even the back rehabilitation didn't go smoothly. He is working in an extreme fitness program in Mesa, Ariz., a program used by a number of NFL players. When he first observed the class, he watched his fiancee, the LPGA golfer Angie Rizzo, and saw how difficult the exercises were. He said, "No way!"
But when his back got worse, he changed his mind. Now, eight months later, his fitness is better. So much so that his posture has improved, and that has altered the plane of his swing, an unintended consequence. So Oberholser has had to adjust for that, too.
"The shot pattern has changed," said Oberholser, 32, who won $2.4 million last year. "I knew where my misses were going last year. This year, I struggle with not knowing where my misses are going. So I've struggled with my ballstriking."
It wasn't much of a struggle Thursday. He got off to a quick start by holing a 50-foot birdie putt at the 2nd hole.
"A real sea-goer," he joked.
He sank a 15-footer at the 4th, stuck a wedge shot to three feet at the 10th and made a 25-foot birdie putt at 11. He was at four under and leading the tournament until he came to the par-4 16th hole, where he drove into the right rough. He pitched out, missed the green with a poor lob wedge shot, made a poor chip and a poor putt.
"It added up to 6," he said.
Maybe he's gained perspective from his struggles, maybe he's just matured, but the double bogey didn't bother Oberholser that much. He still has a long way to go, but Thursday's round was a nice step forward.