You can’t surgically re-attach a dream.
That’s the injury that hurts Arron Oberholser the most this week.
To his dismay, he hasn’t been back to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am since breaking through to win his first and only PGA Tour event there four years ago.
Oberholser celebrated his 35th birthday in the oddest fashion on Feb. 2. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum and microfracture in his right hip. It’s the fourth surgery of Oberholser’s career. He’s also had multiple hand surgeries.
This week is the toughest of all weeks on the PGA Tour schedule for Oberholser. He loves Pebble Beach, but the former top Northern California amateur and San Jose State standout is on crutches doing two months of rehab in Vail, Colo. That’s where Dr, Marc Philipon surgically repaired his ailing hip. Oberholser grew up playing big events at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hills and other venues in the Monterey Peninsula.
Oberholser will be watching the action from Pebble on TV this week, but there’s a double whammy to that. There will be lots of talk of the U.S. Open returning to the venue in June. Oberholser knows he will also miss the year’s second major when it comes back to Pebble Beach. He won’t begin hitting golf balls again until sometime around the start of June.
I caught up with Oberholser by telephone in Vail where he’s with his wife, Angie, and their 6½-month old son, Ethan, while he rehabs.
How difficult is it knowing you will miss Pebble Beach twice this season?
Very frustrating because the U.S. Open only comes to Pebble every 10 years. Unfortunately, I’m in the prime of my career and I’m not going to get a chance to play the U.S. Open there. I tried to qualify when it was at Pebble in 2000 and missed it and that was very disappointing. To miss it again, because of an injury, and to know it’s going to be another 10 years before the U.S. Open returns to Pebble, that’s pretty sad. I’ll be 45 when it comes back and who knows if I’ll even be in the game.
How are you coping with that?
It makes me sad. I love Pebble. It’s my favorite golf course in all the world. I have a special place in my heart for the course. I would give up every other Open I’ve ever played in or will ever play in just to play in one Open at Pebble Beach. I seriously would.
With the tournament this week, what memory will come back strongest about your victory at Pebble Beach?
Just that walk up the 18th hole. I remember that vividly, knowing I had a five-shot lead, knowing I’d won the tournament. That was one of the most enjoyable walks I’ve ever had on a golf course. There aren’t a lot of people who get to experience winning a golf tournament at Pebble Beach. I don’t think there’s a better walk.
Your name is among some impressive champions at Pebble Beach. Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Tom Watson are among the greats who have won there. You must be proud, but is there mixed emotions knowing you haven’t had a chance to build on the promise you showed there?
A few people, very few, were talking about my being able to tie Mark O’Meara’s record of five AT&T Pebble Beach titles because of my knowledge of that golf course and of the conditions and weather there. I always played it down, like it’s something to think about way down the road, but in all honesty, who knows? It was a goal of mine to win as many as Mark O’Meara did. It was such an unbelievable feat to win five AT&Ts, but I believed I could have beaten that, if I had stayed healthy. Who knows? I might still have a chance, but I will have to play well into my 40s to have a crack at it.
It’s where I cut my teeth in competition growing up, and it helped propel me to where I am as a golfer. I played a lot of golf at Spyglass Hills and Poppy Hills and around there. Not too many golf courses require as much shot making as those golf courses in that one little area. You have to have every shot in the bag because every day is different. One day it’s blowing 20 mph, the next day it isn’t blowing. One day it’s dumping rain. The conditions and the terrain are so varied. It’s just a phenomenal place to learn how to play because it puts you in so many different conditions you have to be good at.
When can you get back to hitting golf balls?
First week of June. There’s four months of rehabilitation for this. If I wanted to come back quicker, I could do it in three months, but the doctors don’t recommend it. Since I’m already on a medical exemption from the Tour, I am going to take the most time I can to do this right, to get as strong as I possibly can. It’s going to take a couple months to test things out. That’s if my hand gets well. If my hand does well and my hip does well, hopefully I’m going to play all of the Fall Finish events. That’s my goal, to play all of the Fall Finish Events.
Does the frustration of being away make you want to break things? What’s getting you through this?
I just try to occupy my mind with bigger things. I occupy my mind with my family. The most important thing to me is making sure my son is safe and happy and my wife is safe and happy. Then there’s golf. If I don’t get to play another round of golf because of these injuries – and I don’t think that’s the case by the way – it will be sad, but I have a great support system at home and I’m sure there are other things in this world I could be successful at.
So what are you doing with all the time you used to spend on golf?
This has allowed me to watch way too much SportsCenter, and, unfortunately, it’s allowed me to watch way too much Golf Channel because that depresses me even more, watching the guys playing and having a good time, especially watching the guys on the West Coast.
It’s also given me more time to read. I’m not the most voracious reader the world’s ever know, but I’ve started getting into reading some different kinds of books. I’m expanding what I call my worthless base of useless knowledge. I’ve read some fun books. My new son keeps me very, very busy.
Ethan’s birth last summer must have provided some joy in the middle of all that physical pain.
I was so excited about his birth, the fact that I wasn’ t playing really didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me in the least. It bothered me at the beginning of last year, but as Angie got further into her pregnancy, I got really excited. Golf started to take a back seat. I said to myself. `Whenever I get better, I’ll get better, but something way more important is about to happen in my life.’ I just looked at it that way. I have zero regrets about not being able to play golf because I’ve had six-and-a-half months of being in front of my son almost every day. That’s something most professional golfers don’t get. I don’t think I would give those back for anything. The time’s been invaluable.
So tell us how you like being a dad?
My son’s into everything. He loves to laugh. He’s the happiest kid I’ve ever seen at six-and-a-half months. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s a people person at six-and-a-half months. He’s such a social baby. He’s not scared of anybody. It’s the neatest thing to see.
So what about those books you’re reading?
I just read this book called “Spark” about exercise and training and how exercise can boost your mind and make you smarter. It shows how the more cardio you do, the more the chemicals in your brain react. They’ve done all these tests on school children and college kids that prove their theory. It was very interesting. Now I’m reading James Dodson’s book about Ben Hogan, which is very inspirational.
You were a broadcast journalism major. How about weighing in on some of today’s big topics in golf? What’s your take on the grooves’ controversy and Phil Mickelson’s use of the Ping Eye 2 a couple weeks ago?
I wish what Phil wishes, that they would close this loophole and get on with it. I wouldn’t play (Ping Eye 2s), but I don’t fault another player for playing them and would never say anything against a player who did because they are approved for play. I just wish the loophole was closed.
Ben Crane didn’t know he won the Farmers Insurance Open because he doesn’t watch leaderboards. What did you think of that?
Ben has done that before. I’ve known Ben since college. He went to Oregon and so did my wife. He is not a leaderboard watcher. He plays his own game. It’s whatever you like to do. I watch leaderboards. I’m a hawk. I really don’t have a problem looking at leaderboards and focusing on my game. Ben found a way to get it done, and it works for him.
What about Tiger Woods? What’s your take on what he’s gone through and how it’s affecting the game?
It’s definitely affected the game. From all I’ve read now that I have a lot of time on my hands, he’s taking a pretty good hit himself and for his family and for the game at large. I hope he comes out of this well. The game misses him. I know the Tour misses him. The game is not as exciting without him. Hopefully, he comes back soon.