MYRTLE BEACH — Prior to left elbow issues that developed beginning in 2010, Conway native Kristy McPherson was a rising force on the LPGA Tour.
She improved from 95th on the money list in her rookie season of 2007 to 47th in ’08 and 16th in ’09, when she finished in the top five in a pair of majors – tying for second in the Kraft Nabisco Championship and fifth in the McDonald’s LPGA Championship.
The positive results of rehabilitation from left elbow surgery on Nov. 20 have her optimistic she can return to that high level of play in the near future.
“Everything is good. It’s coming along,” McPherson said. “It’s nice to see the progress.”
The surgery is forcing McPherson to skip the LPGA’s opening events in Australia, Thailand and Singapore. She plans to return for the first three events in the states beginning with the $1.5 million RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix from March 14-17.
That is followed by the March 21-24 Kia Classic in California and the third event would be the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which McPherson will have to qualify for by playing well in her first two events.
McPherson’s surgery repaired medial and lateral tears affecting ligaments on both sides of her elbow, as well as restrictive and painful scar tissue. Her rheumatoid juvenile arthritis exacerbates injuries and complicates surgeries and recovery.
She tried the new Tenex FAST Technique, which is a less invasive alternative to Tommy John surgery with a shorter rehabilitation period. FAST is an acronym for Fasciotomy and Surgical Tenotomy, and the surgery was performed by famous sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews’ associate Dr. Joshua Hackel with Andrews overseeing the surgery.
McPherson is ahead of schedule in rehab. She was told it would be between four and six months before she returned to play competitively and the Phoenix event will be right on four months. “I’m almost a month ahead of where they thought I would be,” McPherson said.
She estimates she’s hitting the ball at 90 percent strength right now. “I have three more weeks to get it stronger and where I need to be,” she said.
In addition to trying to regain her strength, McPherson is also trying to overcome bad habits that have developed since she began experiencing left elbow pain in the midst of her 2010 season. Surgery in December 2010 only seemed to worsen the injuries.
“It makes a lot of sense, just kind of the instinct to protect it,” McPherson said. “I’ve been coming up and out of it on golf shots, afraid to hit down through it and hit through the ground. I’ve been standing straight up on it and losing a lot of power, pretty much just slapping at it.
“Once you do something for a couple years trying to protect it, that becomes your new normal. It’s good because I’ve seen it, and know what I need to do and how to get back [to a sound swing].”
McPherson expects to begin her season with a brace on her left arm. Though the tears have been repaired, she has pain at the top of her forearm, which doctors believe will dissipate in the next few months.
Her physical therapist has assured her the pain isn’t the recurrence of an injury, and she doesn’t risk aggravating an injury by returning in March.
“It actually feels better after I play and stretch it out,” McPherson said. “The only thing I’m kind of angry about is I’ll probably have to play in a brace the first couple months. It’s frustrating, but when I swing with the brace on it feels 100 percent better so I’ll use it.”
Since the 2009 season, when McPherson earned more than $800,000 and played on the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup Team, she fell to 27th on the money list in 2010, 56th in 2011 and 82nd in 2012 with nearly $90,000 earned in 23 tournaments.
Her exempt status will likely qualify her for every full-field event in 2013. She can improve her status this year by playing well, and can be fully exempt in 2014 with a top-60 finish on the 2013 money list. “Top 60 is the first of many goals,” McPherson said.
She feels rejuvenated by the forced break from the game. Her struggles over the past couple years sapped her confidence.
“I kind of needed it,” McPherson said. “Nobody likes to have surgery, but bad golf is no fun. The last couple years have been bad. It’s no fun to tee it up and feel you can’t go win the golf tournament. You don’t want to have excuses, but it’s nice to know there was a reason as well.
“… I didn’t touch a club for a couple months and got the itch back. I’ve kind of gotten that fire back and passion back and want to go out and compete again.”
McPherson doesn’t have a swing coach per se, but has visited her friend Angela Stanford’s swing coach, Mike Wright of Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, over the past few years when she wanted someone to look at her swing.
She received a two-hour lesson two weeks ago at Sea Island (Ga.) Golf Club from Todd Anderson, whose clients include PGA Tour members Brent Snedeker and Davis Love III, with an emphasis on overcoming the bad habits she developed.
“I had a very good lesson with him last week,” said McPherson, who progressed to full swings around Feb. 1 and has played fewer than 10 rounds since then. “I saw some quick improvement.”
She intends to see either Wright or Anderson when she wants future assistance.
Though she has taken a couple trips with family, and spent time in Columbia, Ga., and visiting her parents in Murrells Inlet over the past few months, McPherson has spent the bulk of her time rehabbing and practicing near her home in Tampa, Fla.
Her physical therapist is Larry Mayol of Star Care, who works with baseball players and other athletes. He was recommended by Andrews as one of the top therapists in the country.
McPherson began rehab less than three weeks after surgery and sees Mayol three or four days a week from 8 a.m. to noon. In addition to full-body and cardiovascular workouts, she receives ultrasound and soft tissue work on the elbow.
“You leave and you feel you’re getting better and getting stronger,” said McPherson, who also does rehab work on her own one or two days a week. “You don’t want to miss any days.”
McPherson generally practices and plays from 2-6 each afternoon at Avila Golf & Country Club outside Tampa. She has worked extensively on her short game and putting, and renowned clubmaker David Edel of Austin, Texas, make her a custom-fit regulation-length putter. McPherson has used both belly and regulation-length putters in recent years.
“It’s been kind of a blessing because my putting needed some work,” McPherson said.
McPherson doesn’t yet have a caddie for the 2013 season and is waiting to see what caddies are available after first three events overseas.
GAA offers tune-up
The Myrtle Beach campus of the Golf Academy of America (GAA) will host its inaugural Spring Tune-Up event from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at its 3268 Waccamaw Boulevard location.
Attendees can receive complimentary instruction including video lessons from PGA professional instructors, compete to win prizes in long-drive and distance-control skills contests at GAA’s state-of-the-art campus, review the latest golf equipment, tour the GAA facility and receive complimentary refreshments.
Campus director Jim Hart and other PGA professionals on staff will be participating. There is limited space and RSVPs are required for guests seeking one-on-one instruction. Call the campus at 843-903-8366 to arrange a lesson.
GolfTalk back on Strand
For the sixth consecutive year the Philadelphia-based GolfTalk Live radio show will be in Myrtle Beach for a series of live remote broadcasts and to promote the 30th anniversary of the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship in August.
From February through April, GolfTalk Live is hosting a weekly Myrtle Beach Report featuring a guest from the Strand golf industry, and there will be five weeks of remote broadcasts from Strand locations. The first was recorded Feb. 15 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and aired the next day.
Subsequent shows will be from Greg Norman’s Restaurant, the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort during the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am, and two courses involved with the World Am during the event.
GolfTalk Live, which recently received the award for Outstanding Achievement in the Radio Show Category from the International Network of Golf, airs from 7-8 a.m. each Saturday on WNTP 990-AM in Philadelphia and from 3-4 p.m. on WOND 1400-AM in South Jersey.
It also can be heard live on www.wntp.com and anytime on www.golftalklive.net. Shows from Myrtle Beach have been an annual cooperative effort involving marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.