One misstep leaves Christian's Tour future in doubt
Gary Christian was looking forward to some time off from golf after a disappointing year, but not like this. His PGA Tour season came to a premature end in late July when he made an awkward step and injured his right knee and required surgery.
On Twitter, Christian quipped that he could've avoided the freak accident had he stayed in that night and watched "The Bachelorette." It was just like Christian, 42, an Englishman who played at Auburn, to lighten the mood with a little joke at his own expense. Christian is one of the most likable figures on Tour. He possesses an outgoing demeanor and a positive outlook. His soft wit and self-deprecating humor came in handy during 14 years in golf’s minor leagues before 2012, when he realized his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. Now his future appears uncertain, and he’s facing the stark reality that his uneven playing career could be nearing an early end.
“It’s hard to believe it could all be over in an instant,” he said.
For Christian, it’s harder to accept considering his perseverance to make it as a Tour pro. Along the way, he made ends meet by selling knives, administering pensions and tending bar in London.
In January 2012, Christian was the 40-year-old (Tour) virgin when he teed off in the Sony Open in Hawaii. A self-classified overachiever, Christian overcame the odds to become the oldest first-year player on the Tour. As a rookie, he crashed at Wayne Gretzky's house for a night on his way to Hawaii, posed for photos with former President Bill Clinton at the Humana Challenge and played a practice round with Tom Watson, his childhood hero, at the Greenbrier Classic. Christian was paired with Tiger Woods in the third round at The Barclays. Christian struggled to shoot 77, but his memories of that day won’t soon be forgotten.
“That was the highlight of my career,” Christian said.
Christian finished No. 130 on the 2012 Tour money list, just four or five bad nine-hole scores away from winning more than $1 million, he lamented.
"In the back of my mind, I know I have the potential to change my life," he said. "I'm that close to making everything worthwhile that I've fought for and battled for all these years."
Christian blamed his failures on succumbing to nerves. When the pressure ratcheted up, he could feel the tension building. “I was close to having the yips a few of those weeks,” he said.
With conditional status this season, he made only three cuts in 10 Tour events and added three starts on the Web.com Tour. He spent much of the time brooding over a balky putter and wondering about his stroke on the greens, but thought his short game had started to turn the corner.
“It was a season that showed no results,” he said.
Christian had just finished dinner on July 22 in Ontario, where he was an alternate for the RBC Canadian Open, when he fell and injured the knee. Christian wore a brace and used crutches for his dislocated knee until he learned that he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament. Surgery was performed on Aug. 14 by Dr. James Andrews.
“Recovery is going to be slow,” Christian said. “It’s a little difficult to gather my thoughts and work out what it will take to have a chance to reach the top level again.”
When he’s healthy enough to play again, Christian will have a minor medical exemption that will gain him entry into three PGA Tour events. He said he’d like to be ready in April for the Valero Texas Open, then the HP Byron Nelson Championship and FedEx St. Jude Classic. But if his knee doesn’t heal properly, he said his minor medical exemption would not carry over into 2014-15. He could be back to Monday qualifying and playing in Q-School to regain Web.com Tour status. In the meantime, he has aspirations of launching a career as a TV golf commentator, and encouraged his Twitter followers to lobby Golf Channel to hire him.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten feedback about how good I would be as a talking head with my cute English accent,” Christian said.
But Christian always has been reluctant to hang up the golf spikes, so don't expect him to go away without a fight. The enforced sabbatical could do him a world of good, Christian said, and his road less traveled has given him a greater appreciation of his achievement.
“I’ve always played for the enjoyment of the game," he said. "I’ve lost some of that enjoyment. I hope this helps me to regain that enjoyment, whether I have a long, fruitful career or whether I never play competitively again.”