JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Kevin Sutherland stepped back to line up a shot on the practice range at the Texas Open in April when his foot caught a rope and he fell over backward. Little did he know then it would cost him the majority of his season.
He tied for 11th that week - his best finish of the year - and that was that. With pain increasing each week, Sutherland missed the cut in his next three tournaments through The Players Championship before heading home to Sacramento, Calif., to find out what was wrong.
“I’ve got a herniated disk in the base of my neck, and I have a bone spur in the middle of my neck and that drove it into the spinal cord,” Sutherland said. “There was a bunch on inflammation. They told me I needed rest.”
Turns out to be a lot of rest.
He likely is done for the year, having already been given approval to take a major medical exemption for 2012. Sutherland has gone so long without playing that when he picked up a 6-iron last week, it felt strange in his hands. If rest doesn’t fix it, the 47-year-old Sutherland isn’t interested in surgery.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to do surgery if it bothers me in everyday life,” he said. “I’m not going to have surgery just to play golf.”
Sutherland’s lone win on tour came at the Match Play Championship in 2001. He has been a steady performer, never losing his card since he joined the PGA Tour in 1996 while averaging 28 starts a year. He played 11 times this year, which has made one person happy - his 10-year-old son.
“Keaton is loving it,” Sutherland said. “He thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world, because he’s got his dad for the summer. So that’s obviously one of the plusses. But I am going a little stir crazy.”
FIRESTONE FIELD: Ryo Ishikawa still hasn’t won this year on the Japan Golf Tour, although he has a knack for finishing runner-up at just the right time.
In the final week to earn a spot in the U.S. Open, the 19-year-old from Japan lost in a playoff and earned enough world ranking points to move to No. 49 and get an exemption into Congressional. On Sunday, he was runner-up to K.T. Kim and moved up four spots again to No. 49—just in time to qualify for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, the third World Golf Championship of the year.
The cutoff for the top 50 was Sunday, with another cutoff after this week. Ryan Palmer (No. 52) and Webb Simpson (No. 53) are not eligible for Firestone, although both are playing the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
Also at The Greenbrier is Anthony Kim (62), who has not missed Firestone since his rookie year in 2007.
SETTING ASIDE RIVALRY: Raising money to help tornado victims is enough to united Alabama and Auburn.
Three days of festivities will conclude Aug. 15 with a charity pro-am at Greystone Golf Club in Birmingham, Ala., in which tour players such as Jerry Pate, Leonard Thompson, Steve Lowery and Boo Weekley have agreed to participate. Among the school celebrities who plan to play are Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan, Al Del Greco, Gene Stalling and Pat Dye.
Amateurs will play in a group featuring one pro and one celebrity.
The pro-am follows a flag football game between former players of the two schools on Friday and a silent auction on Saturday. The weekend is known as “Heart in Dixie,” and all proceeds go to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund.
DIVOTS: Asked on Tuesday if he were still Tiger Woods’ swing coach, Sean Foley replied, “Yes.” And the Internet-fueled rumors that he is not? “Hilarious,” he said. … There were no bogey-free rounds at the Canadian Open, the first time that has happened at a regular PGA Tour event was in 2008 at The Players Championship. … Paul Casey has donated the $32,600 he won from the “PowerPlay Golf” exhibition at Celtic Manor to the English Golf Union for its help during his amateur career. “I had great support from the EGC when I was coming through the ranks as a junior, so I am very happy to help them with their player development program,” Casey said. … With so much attention on UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay, Bud Cauley has quietly put together a nice summer since turning pro at the U.S. Open. Cauley already has earned $319,145 in four starts, and needs another $244,584 by the end of the year to earn special temporary membership.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Only 10 players who won an NCAA title have gone on to win majors over the past 50 years.
FINAL WORD: “What keeps you going is just your love for the game and the love for the competition. Plus, if I quit I’m probably going to be flipping burgers because I can’t do anything else.” - Sean O’Hair.