RUMFORD, R.I. – For Johannes Veerman, the new year started with a big bang.
Regretfully, it was one that came very close to derailing his young and promising golf career.
The bang came as Veerman lit and was attempting to send a rocket-style firework into the air at his Sugar Land, Texas, home. But instead of the rocket soaring forward, it backed up and blew up in his right hand.
“It pretty much blew off my thumb,” Veerman said after an opening-round 3-under 66 at Wannamoisett Country Club in his first Northeast Amateur. “It (thumb) was just hanging there by a thread. It was pretty scary.”
Doctors had to reattach tendons, put cartilage back in place and clear out dead muscle before putting the thumb back in place and sewing it together with “more stitches than I can count,” said Veerman, who will be a junior at Texas A&M.
As a result, Veerman was unable to swing a club for more than three months after a fall season in which he posted three top 10s, including a victory at the prestigious U.S. Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia. He also tied for seventh at the Patriot Cup, an individual college competition held between Christmas and New Year’s.
He didn’t get back into Texas A&M’s lineup until the second week in April, when he tied for 42nd at the Woodlands Intercollegiate. The next week, playing as an individual at the Aggie Invitational, he tied for 44th.
Still, Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins saw Veerman’s game coming around and had him in the lineup at the Big 12 Championship. Veerman came through and tied for sixth while helping A&M capture the team title.
He followed with a tie for 17th at the NCAA regional in Bowling Green, Ky., and then tied for 50th at the NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
While his thumb is coming along just fine, his driver has been giving him fits.
Last week at the Sunnehanna Amateur, Veerman opened with a 4-under 66, but after that, he said, “I pretty much had no idea where my tee shots were going.” He closed with 74-74-73 and tied for 33rd at 7-over 287.
“I realized my tempo was really fast and I was going to have to slow it down,” said Veerman, who transferred from Tulsa to Texas A&M before last season. “I worked on that during Tuesday’s practice round (actually an am-am event), and it seems to have worked.”
That it did. Veerman’s 66 start featured seven birdies, a pair of bogeys and a double bogey at the 13th hole when he hooked his tee shot into the trees and took four shots to reach the green.
But of his seven birdies, six came on putts of 12 feet or less, and his longest was a 20-footer at the first hole. Veerman is tied for second, three shots behind recent Aggies graduate Jordan Russell.
“My iron play was pretty good, but mostly I had wedge in my hands on my approach shots,” said the long-hitting Veerman. “The main thing was, I pretty much made most of my putts.
“My putting and short game are normally my strong points,” said Veerman, who was born in the United States but moved with his family overseas at an early age and lived in four countries before returning to the U.S. at age 16. “If I get in trouble, it usually comes from my drive.”