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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.