Pros go away only when the pain won't

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2012 - 12:52 PM

Nick Price and Mark O'Meara are coming back from vexing injuries to play in the 3M Championship.

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Two torn tendons near his left elbow kept Nick Price off the golf course for 15 weeks.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Subconsciously, Nick Price gently tapped on his left elbow as he discussed the past 15 weeks. The spot near his two healing tendons is still tender to the touch, but nothing like the pain that has kept him out of competition.

"The longest layoff I've had ever," Price said. "Treading water waiting for something to happen. For a long time I thought it was a career-ender."

Mark O'Meara was sitting in the same chair a little while later, discussing a similar amount of idle time. He stuck his fingers out in the shape of Pac-Man, compressing them up and down to simulate what his right lower rib endured with the cartilage torn off.

"It felt like somebody was sticking a knife in there," he said.

Detail by detail, Price and O'Meara discussed the pain -- physically and mentally.

The only treatment prescribed for each of them? Rest and rehabilitation. Or exactly what professional golfers despise.

"I drove my family crazy," Price said.

It comes to an end Friday at the 3M Championship. The 55-year-old major champions are scheduled to tee off for the first time in a long time a half-hour apart at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine.

"I've played for 32 years as a professional golfer and [been through] nothing like this," O'Meara said. "I've missed the Masters. Missed the [British] Open Championship. Missed all the Champions Tour majors. Unfortunately, 2012 hasn't been a very good year for me as a golfer."

Both went to specialists. They had MRIs, bone scans and acupuncture.

Two decades ago the layoff might have been a month or two for O'Meara and Price. But as competitors on a tour for golfers 50 and older, no activity is the best medicine, not aggressive treatment.

"I just hope I'm not jumping the gun," said Price, who played his first round of golf since his diagnosis just last Friday. "I'm a pretty hard practicer, but I'm down to 40-50 balls a day. I'm going to have to draw on all my experiences [this weekend]. I'm sure I'm going to hit some funny shots."

O'Meara, winner of both the Masters and British Open in 1998, tried to make a comeback in late June at the Champions Tour event in Montreal. If he could prove himself there, he thought, maybe competing in the British Open a month later wouldn't be out of the question.

Nope.

"At times I'd just be walking and I'd feel it: Somebody stuck me," he said.

O'Meara made a pledge to sit all of July. He and Price traded text messages about getting back on the course this week.

"I would have come back three weeks ago if I could have," said Price, winner of the 1992 and 1994 PGA Championships and the 1994 British Open. "I don't want to embarrass myself. But I want to get out there and play."

Neither player has high expectations for this week, or the rest of the year. Even if they play the balance of the Champions Tour schedule without incident, they are on pace to finish with the lowest number of events entered in their professional careers in a single season.

It doesn't bother them. A little golf is still good golf.

"At our age it's a blessing to still be able to play professional golf," O'Meara said. "We have strong players, Hall of Fame players. But there's a love-hate relationship. When you do it so much, you get a little worn out, but this is what I am programmed to do."

  • 3M CHAMPIONSHIP

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