KAPALUA, Hawaii — Nate Lashley began the 2018-’19 season on a major medical extension after undergoing surgery on his left knee following the 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic. He ended it as a tournament winner, thanks to an impressive feel-good victory in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic almost a year to the day his knee forced him to the sidelines.
This week at Kapalua Resort, Lashley is playing mostly on muscle memory—and those good memories in Detroit. Again he began the season with an injury, a bum shoulder, but thanks to a few cortisone shots he gutted out four starts in the fall, including a T-3 finish in the opener, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, before having to withdraw from the Zozo Championship in Japan after one round.
Upon returning home to Scottsdale, Lashley underwent surgery to clean out a slight tear of his right labrum. At the same time he also decided to have surgery on his right foot that had been causing him discomfort. After more than six weeks of rehab, he had only two weeks to prepare for his debut in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“I wouldn’t recommend having the kind of breaks [away from golf] that I’ve been having lately,” Lashley said with a grin.
Well, it’s not hurting his game.
Lashley likely would have to come up with something special to win Sunday on the wind-whipped and water-logged Plantation Course, but the fact that he has even an outside chance is quite a confidence booster. A third straight two-under-par 71 on Saturday leaves him at six-under 213, tied for 11th and five strokes behind leader and defending champion Xander Schauffele.
“Yeah, I have a shot, but probably need something real low with a lot of guys in front of me,” said Lashley, who turned 37 in December. “The weather has been tough on us. The course is playing long. It’s a lot tougher. I haven’t made a lot of putts this week. But, yeah, you’re in Hawaii, you’re in the Tournament of Champions. It’s almost not like working. I definitely can’t complain about anything.”
With so little time to prepare, Lashley did nothing more than work on the same swing keys that led to his breakout six-stroke victory Detroit Golf Club, where he went wire-to-wire after getting the last spot in the field as the third alternate. The victory got him into the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, and that’s when he first noticed a problem with his shoulder.
By the time he got to Japan, the shoulder was mush. An MRI revealed the problem. “I was worn out anyway,” he said philosophically. “The break wasn’t all bad. And if I kept going, I risked really tearing it and then you don’t know what could happen to you.”
When he returned to hitting balls around his birthday on Dec. 12, he practiced lightly, “just to see if I can get back to the same swing I’ve had for the last year or so,” he said. Yes, well you never know what doctors are taking out. Fortunately, they left his swing in there. That was a relief.
Lashley wanted to be ready for a two-week stay to Hawaii (he also is playing in next week’s Sony Open in Honolulu), but he also was looking ahead. It’s a big year for the journeyman golfer. He has a berth in the Masters, the PGA Championship and the Players, plus invitational events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial. He can pick and choose where he wants to play; the Waste Management Phoenix Open is high on his list early in the new year.
“I’m looking forward to all of it,” the Nebraska native said. “I want to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for some really big tournaments.”
As for the final round Sunday in Maui, Lashley won’t rule out making a run. He’s surprised to even be in the conversation, but, of course, he has surprised himself before. That’s how he got here.
“You never know. Maybe make a couple of putts, get hot with the putter. I’m hitting it well enough,” he said. “Again, I have no complaints.”