Hate to be Rude: Can Oberholser come back?

Arron Oberholser during the 2008 Masters.

Arron Oberholser during the 2008 Masters.

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The flip side of glory is limbo, created by injury after injury, surgery after surgery. That has been Arron Oberholser’s world for about three years. Once looking like a rising young star, Oberholser hasn’t competed on the PGA Tour since making four starts in 2009 and won’t return until this fall, at the earliest.

“There are days I wake up and I’m Johnny Rain Cloud and think I better start looking for a job,” said the winner of the 2006 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in his native Northern California. “And there are days when I wake up and say, ‘This is going to be one of the greatest comeback stories the PGA Tour has ever seen.’ ”

A couple of weeks shy of 35, Oberholser has had four left-hand surgeries in the past three years. Two came in 2010, including the removal of an arthritic bone. He hasn’t hit a golf ball full speed in more than a year, and he wonders what the future holds.

“It looks promising, but there are no guarantees,” he said Monday while tail-gating at the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz. “It looks good that I’ll come back this fall or early next year.”

In 2007, he had his second top 10 in a major championship, T-4 at the PGA, and was runner-up at the Deutsche Bank Championship. But he has made but 14 Tour starts since that season.

He started hitting finesse wedge shots, pain-free, a month ago. It’s clear he needs to improve hand strength and endurance. His goals for 2011 are to rebuild his hand and body and remain positive.

These days, you’ll find him doing a variety of wrist and hand exercises. He has medical clearance to hit full shots full speed in mid-February.

“I know how important that bone is that they took out,” he said. “But I guess I’m cautiously optimistic that I can come back and play on Tour. I just have to wait and see. So much is up in the air.”

• • •

•  Jonathan Byrd has won five times on the PGA Tour, a haul that merits paying attention now that he has found a nice mental-physical groove and is at an age when so many players hit their prime (he turns 33 Jan. 27).

What’s more, the oft-overlooked Byrd has won consecutive Tour starts, dating to last fall’s walk-off hole-in-one in Las Vegas. Chalk up the impressive play there and at last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions to a few things besides talent: that mental-physical maturity, getting healthy after numerous injuries, getting used to a new swing under instructor Mike Bender during the past couple of years, and going through the mourning process after his father’s death in summer 2009.

Byrd’s strength long has been a remarkable wedge game. Those close to him figure he hasn’t hit his ball-striking peak yet. Even at Kapalua, he told confidants that he often relied on timing, that his swing wasn’t in top form.

“But I figured out you don’t have to hit it perfect,” Byrd said.

One common denominator among his five victories is that he has yet to be able to celebrate on the final green, such as after holing a clutch putt. That’s because four wins have come after others’ failures. He even had to withhold enthusiasm after the Vegas ace because his two opponents still had to hit.

“I haven’t gotten to celebrate yet,” Byrd said. “I’ve got it built up in me so much that I’ll be running around like a 14-year-old kid.”

•••

•  Graeme McDowell birdied 11 of the first 16 holes en route to a course-record-tying 62 Sunday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Someone failed to inform him that it’s a new year.

But don’t tell him. Don’t spoil it. Don’t wake him up and interrupt the dream.

•••

•  Dustin Johnson and Natalie Gulbis are dating. Let’s wish them well as they navigate the challenges that go with playing different tours.

A longtime friend familiar with the situation raised two eyebrows regarding the fuss made over Gulbis being in Johnson’s gallery at Kapalua last week. “You would’ve thought that somebody spotted Elvis at the golf course,” he said.

Best nickname I’ve heard yet for the duo? Bam and Glam.

•••

•  You’ve experienced or witnessed Rookie Night at a party before? Well, this is Rookie Week on the PGA Tour. Twenty-six of the 35 rookies will be competing in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Don’t look now, but the Tour just got younger. Twenty-nine of this year’s rookies are under 30, and 15 are 25 or younger – including 20-year-old Bio Kim. Eleven of them have never played a Tour event.

Kim was born in 1990. I’m thinking some amateurs in the Sony pro-am have shoes older than that.

•••

•  On the PGA Tour, Robert Garrigus is the longest driver and uses the shortest putter (28 inches). And we thought John Daly was extreme.

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