Kristy McPherson heard the two words in succession from a doctor that no athlete ever wants to hear: “career ending.”
Bothered by pain and stiffness in her left elbow all season, McPherson visited renowned orthopaedic surgeon James Andrews a couple months ago.
She expected to hear that surgery would relieve the ailments. Instead, Dr. Andrews told her that the recommended surgery could end her pro golf career at the age of 31 after just six years on the LPGA Tour.
“I didn’t like those words,” McPherson said. “He’s a smart guy. He’s the one you want to go to, and when he says something like that, my first thought is, ‘What else you got, then?’ ”
So the Conway native underwent a Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injection procedure at Andrews’ office in Pensacola, Fla., three weeks ago and is playing in her first LPGA tournament since Sept. 21 this upcoming week in Taiwan.
She said an MRI shows a tear in the ligament on the inside of the elbow and two tears in the ligament on the outside of it. McPherson has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and she said Andrews also discovered three other scar tissue and arthritis-related injuries, so six things would have to be repaired with surgery.
“So it’s all messed up in there,” McPherson said. “He said no golfer has ever come back from surgery on both sides of the elbow. Pain-wise he could fix it but I wouldn’t be able to go back to playing golf. As soon as he said ‘career ending,’ I was quick to strike out the surgery.”
McPherson is grateful she went to see Andrews rather than another less prominent surgeon. “Any other doctor might have told me, ‘Let’s just do the surgery,’ ” she said.
McPherson had surgery on the elbow in December 2010 to remove a couple bone chips, and the surgeon also administered tennis elbow relief and golfer elbow relief during the procedure. She has had pain and difficulty straightening her arm at the elbow ever since. “It has not been right since then,” said McPherson, who tried a cortisone shot and one PRP treatment last year.
PRP therapy involves drawing a person’s blood, modifying it to produce huge doses of healing elements present in platelets, and injecting it back into the damaged area. It is designed to stimulate, enhance and expedite repair and regeneration. Tiger Woods had the procedure on a knee and other famous athletes have turned to it in recent years.
Andrews wants McPherson to play in a few tournaments and see if the treatment helps, then do it two more times over the next few months.
If the PRP procedures aren’t successful, McPherson said Andrews intends to try another new procedure he’s used on pitchers in place of traditional Tommy John elbow surgery. That treatment requires between eight and 12 weeks of recovery.
“At least he has options and sounds pretty confident in getting it better,” McPherson said.
McPherson, who has a home in Florida but is looking to buy a house near her parents in Murrells Inlet, has spent the past two weeks undergoing between two and three hours of therapy four days a week at Lowcountry Physical Therapy in Murrells Inlet. The goal of the therapy is to straighten the elbow and give her more range of motion.
She’ll be at her parents’ home and continuing therapy for at least another month when not in competition.
McPherson was an alternate to get into the $2 million Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship until Thursday, and her older brother Jarrod, an attorney on the Grand Strand, will caddie for her there.
She has a sponsor invitation into the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico, from Nov. 8-11, and expects to play in the $1.5 million CME Group Titleholders from Nov. 15-18 in Naples, Fla., to give her three more tournaments this season.
McPherson began the season with four consecutive top-30 finishes but missed the cut in her next six and eight of her next 10 events. After making three consecutive cuts she has missed her last three, and her top finish this year is a tie for 24th in the season-opening event in Australia.
She has fallen outside the top 200 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and to 81st on the 2012 LPGA money list with about $84,000 earned in 20 starts.
The top 100 players in 2012 earnings retain full LPGA exempt status in 2013, and positions 100-125 retain partial status behind 2012 LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament qualifiers and the top five in earnings on the Symetra Futures Tour. The top 80 on the money list qualify for early-season events in Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
In 2011, only the top 80 on the money list retained full exempt status in 2012 and top 60 earned entry into the early-season events.
“Eighty-first is not where you want to be, but it’s better than it would have been last year,” McPherson said. “But to get into the priority top 80 would really be helpful.”
McPherson, who never missed a cut in 60 tournaments on the feeder Symetra LPGA Futures Tour and missed as many as three consecutive cuts just once in her first five years on the LPGA Tour, had the best year of her career in 2009. She finished 16th on the LPGA money list with more than $800,000 earned and played on the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup Team.
She finished 27th on the money list in 2010 and fell to 56th last year with $157,000 earned. She’s less than $38,000 away from $2 million in career LPGA Tour earnings.
Despite the injury, McPherson’s ball-striking is better than average on tour considering she’s 34th in driving accuracy – having hit 74 percent of fairways – and is 48th in greens in regulation at 68 percent. But McPherson has struggled on greens throughout her career – bouncing between short and long putters – and is 117th and 135th on tour this year, respectively, in putts per green in regulation and putting average.
The elbow injury and therapy may actually lead to better chipping and putting. “With all this mess it’s going to give me plenty of time to work on my short game,” McPherson said.
McPherson hopes she continues to have reason to be concerned about issues such as putting and chipping for years to come.
“I’m just glad to get answers. It’s nice to get the MRI and see what was wrong and know that there are options,” McPherson said. “Seeing Dr. Andrews, he gives you confidence he can make it better. It’s better than you’re hurting and not knowing why, and your golf [stinks] and you don’t know why. At least there is a little bit of a solution and goals.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.