PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Ryan Palmer’s heartache wasn’t visible to the naked eye when he made his return to the PGA Tour at the Sony Open last month, but if you watched him putt . . .
“All hell broke loose, the nerves, anxiety, right hand,” Palmer said.
There was rust at work, being away from competition for so long, but there might have been something internal at work, too.
Palmer’s wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer last July and had surgery six weeks later. Ryan left after the BMW Championship in September and didn’t play the PGA Tour again until the Sony Open.
With Palmer’s name hitting the top of the leaderboard in the morning wave Friday at the Honda Classic, his family’s story became more public, too.
With a 5-under-par 65, Palmer moved to 9 under through two rounds, a shot ahead of Rickie Fowler (66).
“I spent the whole fall with my wife through chemo,” Palmer said. “That was my fall and winter break.”
Palmer’s wife underwent a chemotherapy regimen through the fall and winter and is undergoing radiation treatments now.
Palmer, 40, is back out on Tour now because Jennifer’s responding so well to the treatments.
“Things are clear, and she’s doing awesome,” Palmer said.
But Palmer couldn’t get himself to play in the fall, with Jennifer in the heaviest chemo treatment.
“There’s no way I could play golf,” Palmer said. “Enjoyed time at home, took care of the kids, but it was a lot of hard times, for sure.”
Jennifer tried to persuade her husband to play in the fall, but Palmer wouldn’t leave her and their two children, ages 10 and 7.
When Palmer felt ready to return emotionally this year, he wasn’t ready competitively. He played some at home in Colleyville, Texas, but not enough to stay sharp.
Palmer missed the cut at the Sony Open. In fact, he missed his first four cuts this year before tying for 49th at the Genesis Open last week.
“It affected my putting,” Palmer said of his time away. “I was having some issues for a month. My first four events, it was all putting. Something inside me, some anxiety kicked in, right arm, right hand, and my short putting was disastrous.”
Palmer met last week with the Stocktons, Dave Sr. and Dave Jr. He made a switch to a TaylorMade Spider putter.
Now, Palmer’s looking like a new man. Actually, like his old self.
With his fast start at PGA National, he’s in position to make a run at his fourth PGA Tour title. He tied for second here three years ago.
It’s strange. Palmer has the worst record to par of any PGA Tour pro through PGA National’s “Bear Trap,” but he loves the Champion Course. He is cumulatively 38 over par through that difficult three-hole stretch in his nine PGA Tour starts here. He’s even par on those holes this week.
“I'm hitting the ball well, and now that I'm comfortable with my putter and feeling good about it, it makes for a more enjoyable round,” Palmer said.
Jennifer is back home with the children, and Palmer says being back inside the ropes make the time away easier.
“When you get inside the ropes, everything kind of goes away,” Palmer said. “You enjoy those four or five hours. It helps.”
The Palmers have found comfort connecting with Stewart Cink and his wife, Lisa, who is also being treated for breast cancer. Palmer says there’s a different perspective when he is on Tour now.
“Makes golf less aggravating at times,” Palmer said. “You realize it's just a game we're playing, but it is what I do. I love to play the game of golf, but also there's a lot of things going on.”
Palmer’s had his share of heartache the last couple years. His father, Charles, died in an automobile crash a year and half ago.
His dad’s birthday was Thursday.
“Miss him every day,” Palmer said.
And he relishes every day with family all the more.