July 6, 2013

On his way back to the tee

Finally healthy, Adams eyes his return

By Chris Whitfield

— Growing up in Dalton, PGA Tour professional Blake Adams was a jock of all trades. He lived on sports, taking to the greens at Dalton Golf & Country Club and playing on the basketball courts and the baseball and football fields of the area.

Even before he made it to high school, the multiple sports were taking their toll on Adams’ body, so he turned his attention to his two loves — basketball and golf. By the time he was 16, he moved with his mother to Eatonton on the other side of the state and enrolled at Gatewood Academy, where his golf and basketball abilities brought the attention of major colleges from across the nation. He was a two-time Georgia Independent Schools Association’s All-State basketball team selection at Gatewood and also took home two state golf tournament medalist titles.

Still, the injuries and the pain were there.

“I have been in pain for a long, long time, and I have battled injuries since high school,” Adams said.

He played golf for three years at the University of Georgia, trading the courts for the course and turning down several basketball scholarship offers. He transferred to Georgia Southern for his final year of competitive collegiate golf and was named a first-team All-Southern Conference selectee, graduating in 2001. Later that same year, Adams turned pro.

But the injuries and the pain were constantly there.

Making money

He floated around the various mini tours, finally making it to the Nationwide Tour (now called the Web.com Tour) in 2007. In his first two years, he scratched out a living, but the injuries and the pain made competing at his highest level difficult. In his first year on the tour, he entered 16 tournaments and made just five weekends. His efforts were worth $23,270.

Finally in 2009, he felt healthy and relatively pain free. It showed on the course as well as he finished third on the money list with nearly $400,000 in winnings. His spot near the top of the money list earned him a PGA Tour card.

He burst onto the PGA scene with eight top-10 finishes, was in the top 25 12 times and set the record for most money won on the tour in one season without a victory. He finished in the top 10 at Pebble Beach and ended the Byron Nelson Classic tied for second. But even with all of his success, the pain was creeping back in.

On the PGA Tour, players walk the course for every single round. That’s a lot of yardage. And for someone with leg and hip injuries from all those years on the gridiron and all of those days legging out doubles on the diamond, the pain was a constant. But he kept going.

The success continued in 2011 when he had winnings of $1.1 million for the year. It was even better for Adams in 2012, reaching a career high with $1.23 million in earnings. He had four top 10s, finishing tied for seventh at the PGA Championship, and sat in fourth going into the final round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco before fading.

Enough is enough

The money was nice, but the pain in his hip was becoming something he just couldn’t take any more and it was affecting his play. By the time the 2013 season started, the pain was becoming unbearable. He played in the Farmer’s Insurance Open and the Humana Challenge, but he missed the cut in both tournaments.

He decided it was time to do something. He went and saw Dr. Marc Philippon, who has performed on various world-class athletes such as Greg Norman, Mario Lemieux and Alex Rodriguez. Medical scans revealed a cyst, bone spurs and a torn labrum. Rather than have total hip replacement at the age of 37, his doctor suggested hip arthroscopy surgery to remove the cyst and bone spurs and shave and reshape his femur.

“My last two years have been successful, but I was definitely limited the entire time and feel that my success could have been greater,” Adams said. “I was told in 2008 that I needed total hip replacement or this form of surgery. It was long overdue and something I have dealt with on a daily basis since my diagnosis.”

The surgery took place in January, and Adams said the road to recovery has been a smooth one.

“My rehabilitation is going as planned,” he said. “I have started playing rounds of golf and according to my therapists and doctors, I am ahead of schedule. These last few months have been a very humbling experience and a long process. However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I look forward to finally playing a round of golf pain free! I work out daily and I am practicing hard to make my personal goal of returning to the PGA Tour in October. I don’t see why I won’t reach my goal.”

In October, the PGA will begin a new tournament schedule with the season beginning at the end of one calendar year and stretching into the next. Adams expects to be back on top of his game when the new season rolls around.

Away from the course

Since he has been away from competitive golf, Adams has had time to concentrate on two things very important to him — a new teaching academy near Athens and his family. He started the Blake Adams Golf Academy (BAGA) with his swing coach John Tillery. The idea was to bring elite instruction at an affordable price to golfers of all abilities.

 “My surgery back in January definitely allowed me to shift my focus to the birth of the Academy,” he said. “It has been a vision of mine for almost 10 years and it became reality over two years ago when John and I began working on our model. Playing on the PGA Tour is my job and outside of my faith and family, it requires all of my attention. Since my surgery and recovery will sideline me from the PGA Tour until October, I was able to concentrate on the Academy and dive headfirst into it.”

Tillery said the idea came out of a desire to help junior golfers at the high school level more than anything else.

“Blake and I both have gone back and forth trying to figure out how to do it and a good place for it,” Tillery said. “Finally with his injury, we really were able to put in the time to get it done. The genesis of the whole thing was having the things that players need to develop their game, especially at the junior level.”

“The junior golf programs start them young and do a good job of teaching them the game,” he said. “Then when they get to high school, unless they have their own individual coach, they aren’t getting quality coaching.”

Adams said it was a natural partnership between the two.

“(Tillery) is one of the best in the business,” Adams said. “He is young and passionate about improving the game of his students and will go to all necessary lengths to make sure they leave with a clear vision and understanding of his instruction ... and that to me is what the BAGA is all about. I trust him with my own golf game and career and the BAGA is very lucky to have him.”

Partnering with Lane Creek Golf Club in Oconee County, the Academy started in April, and it is Adams’ goal to expand the mission of the school.

“My dreams for the Academy have and will always be to help grow the game of golf through top level and affordable instruction,” he said. “I want to grow the Blake Adams Golf Academy into an elite facility that people will travel to from all over to improve their golf game.”

In addition to the Academy, the other priority during his recovery has been his family. Spending time with his wife Beth and his children Jake and Libby has made the time away from the game he loves a lot easier.

“I view these last six months as a blessing,” he said. “This surgery will hopefully lead to pain-free golf, but most importantly I have been able to push pause on my career and, for once, I have been able to be a hands-on husband and father. I have coached my little boy’s basketball and baseball teams and attended dance recitals for my little girl. My wife and I have been able to live under one roof for the first time in our marriage in 2005 and I have been a presence in my children’s lives. People only see the glitz and glamour of PGA Tour and never realize how much time I spend away from my family. Being at home this year has been the most fulfilling time in my life and even though I look forward to my return to the PGA Tour ... it is going to be hard to leave my family.”