This is a big week for one of the biggest hitters on the PGA Tour. Not that you’ll see Brandon Hagy at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Instead, he’ll be about 600 miles to the north in the less glamorous precincts of Ivanhoe, Ill., where he’ll make the first start in his comeback from injury at the Web.com Tour’s appropriately named Rust-Oleum Championship.
Hagy was just three tournaments into his sophomore season on the PGA Tour when his wrist became uncooperative. Overuse, the docs said, due at least in part to a heavy schedule. He’d posted a top-20 in his first start of the season at the Sanderson Farms Championship but hasn’t played a single event since missing the cut at Mayakoba seven months ago. He attempted to, though.
“In January I tried to come back at CareerBuilder and it sort of flared up again. The scans I got confirmed that,” he says. Hagy WD’d that Wednesday without hitting a shot. “All the orthopedic surgeons I saw recommended three months off, so I took three months off.”
The layoff has been a trying detour for one of the game’s more promising talents. Hagy earned his Tour card two years ago after a strong Web.com campaign and kept it after a rookie season in which fellow professionals were left slack jawed at his raw power off the tee. He ended that year ranked third in driving distance. The only guys who hit it past him: Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.
“Typically he leads the Tour in ball speed when he’s in the field,” says Brady Riggs, who has coached Hagy since he was in eighth grade. “He uses driver less often than most Tour players because he hits it through the fairway or past the ideal landing zone on some holes.”
Hagy didn’t start hitting balls again until April 15, and it took the 27-year-old Californian six weeks to work his way up to swinging driver. He spent last week working with Riggs at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, practicing and playing three straight days.
“The most so far,” he says. “Next week will be a little jump for me in terms of practicing for three days then a four-day tournament.”
Not that he was indolent on those months off. Sure, there was a trip to Italy with his girlfriend, but otherwise he kept sharpening the tools of his trade.
“It’s been frustrating, but I’ve had things to work on where I feel I can still improve in the downtime,” he says. “I’ve worked a lot on my mental game. That’s something I’ve been able to improve on without hitting golf balls. I kept up with physical fitness as much as I could. There’s a bunch of things I could do that let me feel like I was improving.”
Which is pretty much how Riggs expected his charge to spend his time warming the bench.
“He has improved every year since we began working,” the coach says. “Somewhere in the middle of high school I thought he had the talent and the work ethic of get to the highest levels.”
Hagy was given a major medical exemption so he can afford to take a sensible approach to his return. He has up to five Web.com warm-up starts before playing a PGA Tour event, and for the 2018-19 season he’ll receive a number of starts equal to the average played on Tour this year minus the few he already has made.
“So basically a full season,” he says.
He’s unsure what to expect this week in Illinois, or beyond.
“Depending on how it goes, I’ll either do one or two more Web.com events and then start on Tour. Or maybe I’ll feel like I need all five of Web starts to feel like I’m at 100 percent,” he says. “A nice goal would be several weeks in a row pain free, maybe get in contention. Just trying to get back into the groove of playing tournaments a couple of weeks in a row and feeling good about my game. That would be great.”
It’s easy for young players on Tour to get impatient these days, even those free of injury, when they see a handful of guys win tournaments seemingly right out of kindergarten. But Hagy seems secure in his progress.
“At each level I’ve always had a little bit slower process, but I’ve constantly improved and my game has gone to a different level,” he says. “I focus on that as opposed to what other people are doing. I feel like I have a really high ceiling, so it doesn’t really matter as long as you feel like you’re getting closer and closer to that.”
Golfweek, June 3, 2018.