The best of the best of the 50-and-over crowd are here this week at the Constellation Senior Players Championship trying to carve out a lucrative living the old-fashion way – by smashing drives, hitting greens and making putts. In some cases, such as with 57-year old Hal Sutton, the mind is fine, but aging body parts are showing lots of wear and tear from a career in pro golf that spans 34 years.
Flashback to September 1999 when we fondly remember Hal Sutton playing on the Ryder Cup team at The Country Club in Brookline. At 41, he was a happy and healthy man then. Dressed in a god-awful brown, road-map-decaled golf shirt, designed by Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw’s wife, the iconic photo of Sutton, Justin Leonard and 10 other team mates champagne celebration is forever etched in Bay State golf lore.
After shooting 2-over par, 73, on the hilly 6,812-yard Belmont Country Club after round one, an exhausted Sutton sat down with NEGM to talk golf, and, more specifically, his three surgeries and two recent hip replacements, complements of Stryker Corporation, a world-wide medical equipment manufacturer.
“I hit the ball great today but had four three-putt greens,” said Sutton, who played in 19 events last year but plans a reduced schedule this season. “Walking the hills and valleys here at Belmont really do a number on me physically, which might have something to do with why I bogeyed the last two holes. I prefer walking flatter courses and playing three days because it’s easier on my hips and legs. Most of the guys on the Senior Tour have some type of ailment, but I’m the only one with two hips replaced. After a round like today, my hips don’t ache, but my thighs are noticeably sore from three surgeries.”
Sutton explained that his first major hip replacement surgery in Vail, Colorado was botched in 2011 and he has never been the same. Upon advice from Peter Jacobsen and Jack Nicklaus, he booked an appointment with Dr. Mort Bertram, in Naples, Fla. in August 2012 to replace his left hip. It was the best decision he ever made and allowed him to continue in a career he is passionate about and proud of. He followed that up with hip replacement surgery in October 2013 on his right hip.
“My doctor is my best friend,” joked Sutton. “We talk and text all the time. Dr. Bertram is responsible for extending my career in golf on the Senior Tour. My swing has always been more of a body turn and with two new hips I can use the swing that has worked so well before. It’s a timing thing with me, but I have to take my arms out the swing to get consistent results.”
Sutton’s golf resume is impressive starting with 14 PGA Tour career victories, including the 1983 PGA Championship and over $15 million in career earnings. He won the US Amateur in 1980, won 1982 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, member of four US Ryder Cup teams and his best finish on the Champions Tour is T-4 at 2009 Boeing Classic.
Sutton said he has no regrets and is enjoying every minute of an extended career as an aging professional athlete. With the golf glory though, comes some heartache. In February 2014, playing in the Ace Group Classic in Florida, Sutton suffered a heart attack. He was whisked off the course to a local hospital for three days where a stint was installed, and remarkably, he returned in about 30 days. Who said life on the senior tour is living the dream?
“I don’t expect to win this week but I love playing golf and competing against these guys. It’s why I’m here and it’s something I’ve done my whole life. Thank goodness for Stryker or I wouldn’t be playing golf right now with the two hips God gave me,” said Sutton, knowing that there is no cut this weekend and the purse is $2.7 million.
For the first of four days Sutton’s numbers looked like this: 8 of 14 fairways; 14 of 18 greens in regulation; driving average 274 using the putter 34 times. Aspirin and a call from his best friend Dr. Bertram will also be part of the daily routine!
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