Despite shoulder, palm and wrist surgeries, plus a gruesome injury that severed parts of two fingers on his left hand, Brandt Jobe never lost faith in himself
This is an article from the June 27, 2011 issue
Last Thursday morning, 1st tee, first round of the first U.S. Open in three years for Brandt Jobe. He grabs the white towel draped over his golf bag and mops his face, still wet with sweat from his warmup on the Congressional range. He makes a small joke at the expense of the Vancouver Canucks, and one of his playing partners, D.A. Points, laughs. This is the 8:50 group, and when the tee announcer says, "From Westlake, Texas ... Brandt Jobe," the small gallery responds with scattered applause. Jobe tees his ball low, barely above the grass, makes his usual in-a-blink backswing and rips a three-metal down the middle.
Rips is the word because even at 45, Jobe can bring it. His tee shot is 25 yards past the ball of the third member of the group, Nick O'Hern, who had hit driver. Jobe has less than 100 yards to the pin at the 402-yard hole and stops a sand wedge to within 10 feet, inches from O'Hern's approach. The two men have a brief discussion about who's away, then a second one about who—the righty (Jobe) or the lefty (O'Hern)—can putt without standing in the other's line. Finally, Jobe goes first and pours his putt in. He picks his ball out of the cup with his right hand—always the right hand, he says later—and modestly acknowledges the 150 or so appreciative fans around the green. First round, 1st hole, first birdie—another step, another small victory. It's great to be back in the Open. Heck, it's great simply to be playing golf.
Victories are where you find them, and Jobe has had a dozen around the world during his 24-year pro career, including six in Japan over a four-year stretch in the mid-1990s. But the fact remains: Despite amassing more than $7.8 million in earnings, he has never won in 284 starts on the PGA Tour. There is also no denying that playing his way back onto the Tour this year, and into last week's Open, where he shot rounds of 70 and 74 on the weekend to finish 23rd, rank among his greatest triumphs.
In November 2006, Jobe was furiously sweeping leaves from the garage at his suburban Dallas house when the plastic-and-steel broom handle shattered. In a flash, jagged shards sliced through the fingers on his left hand like a guillotine. He remembers seeing pieces of his fingers, perfect half-circle samples, lying on the garage floor like onion slices.
"It happened so fast I didn't even know it at first," Jobe says. "When I grabbed my hand and looked, I saw the bone in my index finger and this huge trail of blood and—oh my gosh!—there's my fingers on the ground. And I thought, Well, golf is over."
Jobe had the presence of mind to pick up the pieces of flesh and clean them. Meanwhile, his then six-year-old daughter, Brittan, got a plastic bag and a Tupperware container. Jobe then put the fingers in the bag and the bag in the Tupperware, adding ice. He called his wife, Jennifer, who was doing errands, and phoned a neighbor, fellow Tour pro Brian Watts, who hurried over and drove Jobe to the hospital. Jobe also called a cardiologist friend who knew a microsurgeon—Dr. David Zehr, who just happened to be on call at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
"That's how luck happens," Jobe says. "As bad as it could've been, I got lucky because [Zehr] was there. He said, 'Well, I can sew these back on.' I said, 'You can do that?' He said, 'Sure, when do you want to do it?' I said, 'How about right now?' An hour later, it's 11 o'clock at night, he brings in an anesthesiologist and I'm on the operating table. I'm out of there at three and home the next morning."
Jennifer rushed to the hospital, stunned and confused. "I didn't understand what happened," she says. "You were pushing a broom? I'm O.K. with blood, but if I had been home, I would've been freaked out."
A couple of weeks later, on his first follow-up visit with Zehr, Jobe asked about his future. The odds were 50-50, Zehr said, that the skin takes and the fingers heal. "My fingers were sewed back on," Jobe says. "So you wait."
He had plenty of experience at that. In 1990 he had his left shoulder reconstructed by the famed Dr. Frank Jobe, no relation. In 2003, Jobe broke the hamate bone in his left palm, which also required surgery, and a year later rebroke the same bone. (His doctor told Jobe he had never seen that before.) But the comeback from the second hamate surgery was a success, and in 2005 Jobe was among the top 30 money-winners who made up the field for the season-ending Tour Championship.
"With the hamate I always knew I'd come back," Jobe says. "[The finger injury] was uncharted territory. No one could tell me when I could start hitting balls again. How many guys on Tour have cut off their fingers and tried to come back? Zero. The doctor said, 'When they're healed and not bleeding, you can try, but it's going to hurt.'"
Jobe waited but not quite long enough. In March 2007, before he could completely close his fingers into a fist, he tried playing. "I ripped my whole left wrist from the bone," he says. "That was two more surgeries."
Jobe made only eight starts in '09, lost his Tour status and at 44 began to wonder if his career was over. At the time, he needed to make only three more cuts to reach the 150 needed to qualify as a Veteran Member of the PGA Tour, which would allow him to enter some Tour events for the rest of his life. To get that opportunity, the only path was the Nationwide tour, a step down for a veteran like Jobe.
"That wasn't the way I drew this thing up," Jobe says, but after a pep talk from Jennifer and a friend, he decided to suck it up and go for it. "I said, 'Honey, I'm going to be gone for three weeks and figure this out. I going to grind—hit balls and chip and putt and really, really grind.' I went by myself, and eventually I found something."
Jobe found two things, really: He hadn't lost his desire to compete; and he discovered a new way to swing with his damaged hand. Jobe had always hit a power fade, taking the club back on an outside path with a shut clubface and holding on through impact with his strong hands. "The problem was that now, if I got the club where I did before, I couldn't feel where it was," he says. "Plus, I had no strength in my left hand to hold it. The old swing was a lefthand swing."
Jobe has no feeling in his left thumb or index finger, unless you count the painful zing he gets when he pushes back on their tips even slightly. To compensate, he adopted an on-plane swing over his right shoulder, figuring that when he reached the point where his body couldn't turn anymore, he'd know it was time to rotate back for the forward swing. It was a game-changing move, turning his stock fade into a slight draw.
Three years of frustration began to fade. He tied for fifth in a Nationwide tour event in Springfield, Mo., followed by a tie for fourth in Sandy, Utah, and a tie for second in Midland, Texas. Then another setback: Late in the season Jobe broke his driver and while struggling to find a replacement dropped out of the Nationwide's top 25 money list, which would've given him PGA Tour status for 2011. So he went back to Q school and regained his Tour card with a tie for sixth.
This season has been an eye-opener. Jobe has had three top 10s, including a tie for second at the Memorial, followed by a 62 the next day that carried him through the 36-hole U.S. Open qualifying. Jobe has already won more than $1.1 million and is securely exempt through the 2012 season. He is officially back.
Says Jennifer, "When I asked him, 'When will you know when you're finished?' he said, 'When I wake up and don't want to play.' Brandt doesn't ever give up. I knew he would be back out here. It's fun to look out and see him smiling. This is where he should be."
Open week was a series of highlights for the Jobe family. Jennifer, who had never visited the nation's capital, saw the sights with Brandt, Brittan and Jackson, eight. They visited the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian and the Newseum. "What an experience for us," Jennifer says.
Brandt, meanwhile, played his way onto the leader board. In the first round he holed a lengthy birdie putt at number 10, the new par-3 by the clubhouse and one of Congressional's two signature holes (along with the 18th). He also holed a bunker shot for a birdie at the 12th and breezed to an even-par 71. After a storm delay in the second round, he had slipped to three over par and was in danger of missing the cut, but he rallied with a birdie-eagle-par-birdie spurt that began as soon as Jennifer brought the kids out to watch him finish. After Jobe teed off at number 5, he headed over to the ropes to say hello. He was greeted by Brittan, who said, "Pink power, Dad!" At his daughter's suggestion he had worn a pink shirt, and in a show of support Jennifer and Brittan donned pink tops too. (Jackson settled for a pink wristband.) Jobe birdied that hole, and then the scene turned surreal. At the par-5 6th a late-evening sun was at his back as raindrops fell from a mystery cloud. Jobe trusted his new right-to-left ball flight and played a daring three-iron shot over a greenside water hazard, sticking it close. When he made the eagle putt, the crowd—the "crowd" being, at 7:30 in the evening after a rain delay, his family, including his mother, Kay, and his dad, Bill—went wild. The churning sky was like a painting, a mix of gray and silver and billowy white clouds. The shadows were long. The moment was worth savoring.
Jobe birdied the 8th, then hit a brave fairway wood to the par-5 9th just off the back fringe. An up-and-down for birdie would get him to two under and into a tie for third, but the horn sounded, ending play. He came back on Saturday morning to finish and settled for par, a one-under 70 and a late third-round tee time.
Early in the week Jennifer had said, "This could be his year." Upon further review, it already is.
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