CHARLESTON, S.C. – Having already secured his PGA Tour card for 2011, and having not hit a ball in three weeks, Peter Tomasulo boarded a cross-country flight from California, broken foot and all. Upon arriving at Daniel Island for the Nationwide Tour Championship, Tomasulo hit six range balls Tuesday to ensure that he could, in fact, make a full swing without crumbling to the turf. Still standing after six swipes, he needed no further evidence.
“I still felt like I could swing,” said Tomasulo, 29. “I’m not going to forget how to swing the club.”
Playing a pickup basketball game on Oct. 5, two days before the start of the Chattanooga Classic, Tomasulo broke a bone in his right foot when he landed awkwardly on the side of a raised hardwood floor. (The 5-10 Tomasulo jokes that he banged his foot on the rim.) At the time, he was 12th on the money list with four events left.
When he first learned his foot was broken, Tomasulo began to panic: Have I earned enough to secure my card? Do I need to prepare for Q-School? What’s my number?
All he could do was heed his doctor’s advice. So what followed were three weeks of ice baths – three times a night, 10 minutes at a time – and a steady diet of pain pills and Advil. His foot began to heal quicker than anticipated, and assured three weeks later that playing 72 holes wouldn’t create undue stress on his foot, Tomasulo headed to the airport for the Nationwide Tour Championship.
He arrived at Daniel Island wearing a cumbersome walking boot, but shed the footwear in favor of a brown FootJoy sandal that looks more suited for hiking trails than breathtaking resort courses on the Island. At the urging of his caddie, J.J. Jakovac, Tomasulo also purchased a black walking cane at the medical supply store down the road. “My sister was making fun of me,” Tomasulo said, “because she saw me on TV and said I wasn’t allowed to wear socks with sandals. But this week, she can cut me some slack.”
On Thursday, Tomasulo hobbled and grimaced his way around a Ralston Creek course that, in his own words, “isn’t much fun to walk.” There are lengthy treks from green to tee on some holes. Subtle mounds in the fairway can send a jolt of pain through his foot. And at 7,446 yards, it’s just plain long.
Of course, there are a few tricks to alleviate the pain.
• Tomasulo keeps his right heel raised throughout the swing, and says he still can “give it a full rip with the driver” in that position.
• After hitting a shot, he swaps an iron for the cane and limps down the fairway.
• When reading putts, he crouches only enough to rest his hands on his knees, and occasionally has Jakovac pluck the ball out of the cup.
Heck, it’s life on the Champions Tour, two decades early.
“He didn’t have to play, he didn’t have to show up,” said Won Joon Lee, who was paired with Tomasulo on Saturday. “He could have been grumpy, he could have been hating the world, but he’s not. He played hard today. It was great to see.”
Boys being boys, it became a contest on every hole as to who could drive the ball farther. Using driver, 3-wood or hybrid, Lee outdrove Tomasulo on every hole, or so it seemed. Where it mattered more, of course, was on the scorecard. And that final tally, despite a significant disparity off the tee, read all square: a pair of 70s.
“I felt a lot better today,” said Tomasulo, who after rounds of 72-79-70 is tied for 49th in the 59-player field. He’s No. 18 on the money list, with $220,712. “I felt like I could shoot under par out here.”
The foot injury perhaps was a fitting end to a trying season for Tomasulo, who after a one-year stint on the PGA Tour (five made cuts in 25 starts in 2009) began the year on the Nationwide Tour needing sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers to compete. When he was unable to get into the field at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in March, Tomasulo played a mini-tour event.
“Coming from the PGA Tour, I don’t feel like I’m a guy with a big ego, but it hurts my ego,” he said. “I feel like I belong out there on the PGA Tour or here on the Nationwide Tour, and it’s frustrating to have to do all that stuff. You’re playing where you belong. You never deserve better in this game. And I played my way through that.”
In July, Tomasulo shot a final-round 61 to rally from eight shots back to win the Wayne Gretzky Classic, then recorded a T-5 finish the following week. He vaulted to eighth on the money list, virtually locking up his card, and rendered this foot injury a mere footnote in his 2010 season.
“I’m so proud,” Tomasulo said. “Two years ago, when I got my card, it was still satisfying. But after playing on the PGA Tour and losing status, you wonder when you’re going to get back out there again, and it’s great to do it right away. I swallowed the disappointments of last year, plugged along and earned it. I’m really proud of that.”