Ryan Moore's involuntary spring break lasted exactly seven weeks. That's how long it took him to recover from surgery to repair the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand. He grew a beard. He watched the Masters on TV. "It was torture," he said, "but good motivation." Ryan Moore was completely and totally forgotten about—odd given his status as one of America's incandescently brilliant young stars.
Moore won the 2004 U.S. Amateur, U.S. Public Links, NCAA Championship, Western Amateur and Sahalee Players Championship. As a senior at UNLV he tied for 13th at the 2005 Masters before winning the Hogan Award as the nation's top collegiate. Moore turned pro after the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he finished tied for 57th, and as a non-PGA Tour member won $686,250 in 10 starts, the equivalent of 113th place on the money list, to earn his Tour card for 2006. Moore was the first player since Tiger Woods in 1996 to go from college to the Tour without Q school, but what no one knew at the time was that he did it with an aching left hand.
"It started hurting around the U.S. Open last year," he said. "Early on [doctors] were shrugging their shoulders going, 'I don't know what to tell you.' The pain wasn't where the injury was in the hand. I sat out for four weeks after Phoenix [FBR Open] and it didn't go away."
The breakthrough came when Moore was paired with Mark O'Meara at the Honda Classic in March. In between shots O'Meara asked the young phenomenon why he had sat out so long, and Moore replied that he wasn't entirely sure; all he knew was that his left hand hurt. A light bulb went on over O'Meara's head. "He'd had the exact same thing on his right hand," Moore said.
The two made plans for Moore to see O'Meara's doc when he was in Orlando for the Bay Hill Invitational, where Moore learned his situation was hardly unique. In addition to O'Meara, the hook of the hamate has hounded Brant Jobe (twice), Arron Oberholser and others on Tour.
"I still have numbness in my left pinkie finger," said Jobe, who was first diagnosed in 2003 by his father, a Denver radiologist. He sat out for four months after surgery and accidentally re-broke the bone in his fourth event back in 2004. "It mostly affects baseball players," Jobe continued. "My doctor has done more hook of the hamate operations than anybody, but I was the first patient he'd seen twice. He was so excited to see his own work he brought in his mentor to see it, too."
Jobe was laid up even longer after his second operation. "I had no feeling," he said. "The hand had ulner nerve damage. It was all messed up. [Moore] probably has numbness he doesn't even know about. He may not even remember what it's like to have full feeling."
Be that as it may, Moore was consistent in his first event back, the Bank of America Colonial. At only about 90% of full strength off the tee, he was considerably shorter than playing partner Jason Gore during a practice round, Moore's first 18 holes since the operation, but he found ways to make up for the distance disparity. His putting was as good as ever despite "a tiny bit of numbness in a couple of my fingers," and he spoke of coming to Fort Worth to win.
Headstrong talk like that may make you an honorary Texan, but Moore shot 70-71-72-70 to finish 15 strokes behind Tim Herron. Things went less well at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week, where Moore shot an opening 80 and withdrew out of fear of doing too much, too soon, and losing sight of his primary objective.
"The target [for coming back] was the U.S. Open qualifier right after the Memorial [this week], so to have a couple weeks to get ready for it is a bonus," Moore said. "For me, with the U.S. Open being at Winged Foot, where I won the U.S. Amateur—I wanted to be 100% by then." Or close enough to 100% to win. Crazy talk? Nah.
Crazy swing, maybe. Moore is not a golf academy whiz kid who can't stop looking at himself in stop-action photography. Winning is what he does. He'll break through with his first Tour W soon if he's healthy, if he's got both hands on the clubs. After all, he played like Tiger with only one.
|Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at [email protected]|