In 2001 I suffered my first serious injury—a torn labrum in my right hip that required surgery—but I've always had physical issues. There is a history of rheumatoid arthritis in my family, and a lot of relatives have hip and shoulder problems. I've battled tendinitis and bursitis in both shoulders going all the way back to college. I don't think fans understand how much wear and tear there is on tour pros. Go get a metal stick and hit the ground as hard as you can. Then do it 300 more times. Now do it every day and see how your joints feel. In 2005 I had surgery on my right wrist to clear out years of accumulated scar tissue. That cost me six weeks of tournaments, but I could afford it because I was coming off my best season, during which I finished 48th on the money list with $1.44 million. (I lost a playoff at the 2004 Hawaiian Open to Ernie Els, but that never bothered me because I played well on Sunday and was simply beaten by one of the best players in the world.)
The 2006 season was when my life on the Tour really started to change. Until then Allison, Harrison and Ford had traveled to most tournaments with me. It was a big expense and occasionally a big hassle, but we loved being together and having various adventures on the road. By the spring of '06, however, Allison was pregnant with Slayden and she could no longer travel. That fall Harrison started kindergarten at an excellent public school that was pretty strict about limiting student absences. Allison and I had built our dream home in Dallas's Park Cities neighborhood, close to both sets of parents. It's a very Norman Rockwell kind of place to raise a family, and we wanted the boys to have stable lives, rich with sports and other activities. So we decided the family would no longer travel with me, except occasionally in the summer.
In 2007 I played a typically heavy load of 32 tournaments and quickly discovered that being a road warrior can be a very lonely life. I came to dread empty hotel rooms and still do. Sometimes I'll hang out in the lobby, drinking coffee and surfing the Internet—anything to avoid the feeling of having four walls closing in on me. I see lots of movies and try to meet other players for long dinners, and in a typical tournament week I will read two or three novels, usually mysteries by the likes of Lee Child. But none of this fills the void of my missing family. I talk constantly to Allison and the boys on the phone—in the morning before school, before their games, always at bedtime. It often makes me miss them even more.
Without the family around, I missed the cut in 21 of those 32 starts and had to return to Q school for the first time in a decade. The next two seasons were also struggles, as I had a lone top 10 in each. But 2010 was when things really began to fall apart.
During the first few months of the season I was having problems with my back, hip and elbow, and I spent more time in the fitness trailer than on the range, simply trying to get all the aches and pains to go away. I also endured a series of cortisone shots. That was nothing new; for a long time I had been averaging eight or nine a year. My frustration with my broken body turned me into a pretty big grump, and that bad attitude carried over to the course—from Pebble through the Players, I missed nine cuts in a row, the worst slump of my career. I kept soldiering on because I didn't want to be seen as a quitter or a whiner, and I was worried that people would think I was a hypochondriac. Justin once said, "It's an odd-numbered year, so that means Harry's going to have surgery." The comment was made in jest, but it stayed with me. Is that what people really thought?
At the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, my back was tight, my left hip was killing me and I had a sharp pain in my elbow, but I played on, missing another cut, of course. The next week in Hartford, during the first round, my left knee went out. My swing had so many compensations for injuries, I didn't know what to compensate for anymore. That night I was feeling pretty down when I called Allison. She was at a college reunion and didn't pick up, so I left her a long message. When she called back I could tell she had been crying. She said, "I don't care whether you ever play golf again. Just come home so I can take care of you."
Back in Dallas I spent three hours in an MRI tube. They found tendinitis and arthritic flare-ups in most of my joints and a cyst on top of my left femur. In July, I went in for surgery on the cyst and my doctor discovered a lot more damage in the hip—the cartilage was so shredded, it was basically bone on bone in there. The doc performed microfracture surgery on my hip. When I was briefed on all of this in post-op, I felt an overwhelming relief that there really was something wrong and those close to me would know I wasn't making it all up as an excuse for my poor play. Since I was out for the rest of the year anyway, I had another surgery in August to fix my right shoulder.
As I've returned to the Tour this year—playing on a major medical exemption—the challenges have been more mental than physical. When I stand on a tee I find myself thinking back to all the bad shots I've hit in previous years. I have to go through a pretty significant thought process to get rid of the negative images. Some of the anxiousness has returned. In my season debut at the Hope, I finished 54th, and then I missed the cut at Torrey Pines. I flew home from there, and Allison and the boys met me at the airport. She said that as soon as she saw me she almost burst into tears because she could see that emotionally I was right back to where I had been six months earlier.
But two weeks at home perked me up, and I went to Los Angeles and played pretty well. I opened 69--74 to make the cut, and on Saturday, I shot my lowest round in 16 months, a 65 that tied for low round of the day and propelled me to a tie for seventh place, five strokes off the lead. The 65 actually wasn't a great ball-striking round, but I managed my game well, made a bunch of putts and holed out a sand wedge from the 7th fairway. On Sunday, I tried not to think about the magnitude of the opportunity, but I was still really, really nervous, just from not having been in that situation in a very long time. A series of mental mistakes and loose swings doomed me to a 77 that dropped me to 51st. Still, I left L.A. feeling encouraged. That 65 was a reminder that deep down there's still a pretty good player in there.
If you grow up a golfer in Texas you have your choice of icons. Byron Nelson was always my hero, and I was privileged to become friends with him through the years. There are some interesting parallels in how we both feel about tournament golf. It wasn't everything to Mr. Nelson. He used his talent to get what he wanted—a beautiful ranch and a quiet life. I'm pretty sure Mr. Nelson never had any regrets about leaving the game in his prime because he was more at peace with himself than anyone I've met. Of course, Mr. Nelson accomplished so many great things in the game. For me there's still some inner turmoil because of the nagging feeling that I was not quite committed enough to reach my potential. I regret letting the game beat me down. I wish I had been stronger. But as I'm slowly making peace with my up-and-down career, I've begun to seriously contemplate my future without competitive golf.