Specifically, Thomas said, the chances are 95 percent that Sorenstam wont need surgery for the injuries that forced her to withdraw from last weeks Ginn Open near Orlando. Thomas reached that conclusion last week after examining Sorenstam, checking her MRI results and consulting with a Miami neurosurgeon.
Sorenstam, the No. 1 woman golfer in the world, hadnt previously worked with Thomas. But she knew of him. And when the pain in her neck and back increased earlier this month, Sorenstam called Thomas on his cell phone.
Thomas, whose offices are located in nearby Melbourne, Fla., told Sorenstam, in his words, to come on in and well get you better.
Sorenstam spoke about her condition briefly Monday at the opening of her Academy in Reunion, Fla. And her agent, Mark Steinberg, said doctors would monitor a 10-to-14-day therapy program before making any further plans for her recovery.
Thomas confirmed that timetable Tuesday. Its a three step process right now, he said. Step one, he said, is to eliminate the discomfort caused by the ruptured disk in her neck. He said he had prescribed some pretty potent anti-inflammatories and ice and electric stimulation for the neck. Step two, he said, would involve strengthening the neck and her right arm, which has experienced numbness. Step three, he said, would be to harden her or, in other words, ready her for a return to competition.
Meanwhile, a source close to Sorenstam, said the pain caused by the inflammation began manifesting itself as long ago as last June at the U.S. Womens Open in Rhode Island, where Sorenstam won that championship for the third time.
By the time Sorenstam got to the Lexus Cup in Singapore in December, the source said, she was icing the inflamed areas on a regular basis.
Then the symptoms refused to go away in the off-season. Annika isnt a complainer, said her caddie, Terry McNamara, earlier this week. She thinks complaining just gets in the way of fixing the problem.
But Sorenstam, McNamara and Sorenstams coach, Henry Reis, were all puzzled by an increased loss of distance, particularly with the driver.
Reis and Sorenstam worked hard on swing adjustments. But the frustration for everybody in the Sorenstam camp grew when she almost missed the cut at the Kraft-Nabisco Championship three weeks ago.
All were relieved when the MRI pinpointed the disk problems as the cause for the pain. But as late as early this week there wasnt consensus on what caused the disk problem. Sorenstam is a self-confessed workout freak. And nobody had identified her as a candidate for disk problems.
Thomas professional opinion is that swinging the club is the problem and that it has nothing to do with any technical flaws in her swing. Swinging a club and looking leftward and leftward and leftward is a common cause for neck problems among all golfers, he said.
There has been some concern that Annikas distinctive swing action, in which she appears to pull her neck out and to the left before impact, might have been exacerbating the neck problem.
But, Reis said when asked if Sorenstam might have to change her mechanics when she returns, I dont think this was caused by the way she swings the golf club.
Everybody on the Sorenstam camp stressed the need for proceeding with caution. All, including Sorenstam, are aware that it is not in her nature to stay still.
She must be patient with this, said Pia Nilsson, the former Swedish national coach, who has been a mentor and role model for Sorenstam over the years. We dont know everything about this yet.
Medication, therapy and nature is the plan for now, Thomas said. He added Sorenstam will continue to wear a neck brace which, he said, relieves eight to 10 pounds of stress on her neck.
Thomas is not a stranger to womens golf. He currently serves as the physician to the Washington Nationals baseball team. But he works about six to eight events a year on the LPGA. He previously served as the team doctor to the Florida Marlins and received a World Series ring when that team beat the Cleveland Indians in 1997.
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