IRVING, Texas – Joey Snyder III woke up early Monday morning in his family’s Scottsdale, Ariz., home and explained to his two young daughters that he needed to go to work.
Sophie, 5, and Caroline, 3, were confused at first, then upset that their dad was leaving. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand.
One of the most commonly asked questions in our society is, “So, what do you do for a living?” yet for so many of us the answer is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.
All across Hollywood, there are actresses who spend their days reciting lunch specials for 10 bucks an hour. Check into your local Jiffy Lube and a race car driver may change your oil filter. Even serious artists are biding their time as sandwich artists.
For the past six years, Snyder has been a PGA Tour golfer who doesn’t play golf.
It wasn’t always this way. After nine years of trying to reach his dream, the Arizona State University alum finished T-13 at Q-School in 2004, earning full-time status for the 2005 season. His rookie campaign was an unabashed success, as Snyder made the cut in 20 of 31 starts, earning more than $1 million and – most importantly – keeping his card for the next season.
His sophomore year, though, didn’t go nearly as smoothly. Snyder missed his first five cuts of the season, and then on March 5, while hitting balls on the practice range at Doral, he started feeling intense pain in the right side of his neck and right shoulder.
“Rocco Mediate was next to me and he just started picking up all my practice balls and putting them in his pocket,” Snyder recalls. “He’s like, ‘Dude, go home.’”
What followed next was a confluence of medical head-scratchers and misdiagnoses that were as confounding as the injury itself.
It took six weeks for Snyder to get in to see a top neurosurgeon, who assured him that the problem wasn’t with his neck – but did assure him that he couldn’t pinpoint the issue.
That became a recurring theme. A shoulder specialist would send him to a neck specialist, and then the neck specialist would send him to a spine specialist, only to have the spine specialist send him back to a shoulder specialist. It was a never-ending cycle of appointments and tests, all to no avail.
Within two years of first being injured, Snyder guesses he underwent about 10 MRIs. Still, no answers.
Like a 36-handicap hacking away at the range, Snyder was ready to try anything.
“I went to see – you name it,” he says. “All kinds of different crazy gurus of body mechanics. I went to a guy up in Minneapolis, Minn., who Arron Oberholser had seen. Literally, it was shock therapy. Tried to do it and it just didn’t fix it.”
Four months of that. Three months with another doctor. There were even procedures done to potentially alleviate the pain. In late-2009, Snyder underwent surgery for a sports hernia, and then was told immediately afterward that he needed to have surgery on his right hip, as well. Neither solved the problem. He still couldn’t swing the golf club.
All during this time, he heard the whispers from fellow PGA Tour members. When a player with full status is injured, he not only receives a medical extension which allows him to resume playing privileges once healthy, but also a monthly stipend during that absence.
The cases are few and far between, but Snyder wouldn’t have been the first player to extensively milk an injury in order to keep receiving paychecks without actually having to play any golf.
“Most of the players were very supportive,” he says. “But some guys do question whether you’re staying at home, living off disability because you can. I’ve heard everything. For a guy like me, I’m pretty honest. It’s hard not to have Mickey Mouse ears when it comes to that stuff. It definitely hurts your feelings, but there’s part of you that understands it.
“I mean, gosh, they haven’t seen me in six years. I kept telling them, ‘I would love to come back. Believe me, I didn’t try this long to get out here just so I could sit at home.’”
Finally, on March 5, 2010, exactly four years to the day of his last PGA Tour round, he was diagnosed with adhesive capsulitis – more commonly known as frozen shoulder. The affliction baffled doctors for so long because the nerve in his shoulder was fully engulfed in scar tissue due to so much golf.
“I told the doctor, ‘You’re going to have to forgive me, but I’ve heard that people can fix me and nobody’s done it, so I want to see that this is the right diagnosis,’” he recalls. “The doctor said, ‘On behalf of the medical community, I want to apologize to you. This should have been something that was fairly easy to diagnose, but we missed it, because of all the neurological signs and all the referred pain.’”
Snyder underwent surgery to fix the problem, albeit not without further complications. He played in five Nationwide Tour events last season – missing the cut in each one, but posting scores between 70-73 in all 10 rounds – and felt more pain, so he had another procedure. He had wanted to return earlier this year, but again had the injury flare up.
Now, though, it’s gone – at least for the time being. All of the doctor visits, all of those diagnoses and tests and procedures, they were done for the main goal of returning to his job.
On Thursday, Snyder will compete on the PGA Tour for the first time in 2,265 days, part of the Byron Nelson Championship field. He has 25 starts in which to earn $647,466, which would give him the equivalent of 125th on the money from the 2006 season.
Of course, the Tour has changed since then. Sure, there are many familiar faces, but gazing out upon the practice range this week, Snyder says he only recognizes most of the younger players from watching them on TV.
As for his game, Snyder maintains there are no expectations for his return engagement.
“Everything is feeling pretty good,” he says, “but don’t get me wrong – the game has still got a little bit of rust.”
Meanwhile, Sophie and Caroline – along with Snyder’s wife Dana – will be watching from home, still not exactly sure why their father is gone or what his job really entails.
“I’ve been at home every single day of their lives. It’s been great. It’s been the only thing that’s kept me sane,” he explains. “They said, ‘Daddy, why do you have to go?’ I told them, ‘This is what Daddy does for a living. I know you haven’t seen it, but hopefully you’ll get to see what Daddy does.’”
For the past six years, Snyder has been a PGA Tour golfer. This week, he finally gets a chance to play that role.