Victorian Stuart Appleby continues to make a successful return from back surgery as he tests his body in the Web.com Tour.
Appleby fired a five under par 66 in the second round of the Nova Scotia Open in Halifax recently and followed up with a closing three-under 68 to tie for 36th.
It was his first start since undergoing surgery in March to repair a herniated disc.
Appleby, 44, is making a cautious approach playing five "rehab starts" allowed by the PGA Tour as part of a medical exemption.
He finished No. 5 on the Web.com Tour money list in 1995, a year when only the top five players earned Tour status for the following season.
Reflecting back, Appleby said the experience was a shock but critical if he were to adjust to life in the US.
“I have fond memories,” said Appleby of the 1995 season where he won twice and recorded 15 top-25 finishes in 22 starts.
“My first time, really, travelling and renting cars and (figuring out) what hotel I stay at. I hadn’t seen the golf courses before; total shock on how Americans play golf. Just shoving it right at the flag every hole.
“I would shoot three under, and someone would shoot eight under, and I thought, ‘You can’t shoot eight under out here!’ and so I learned that you have to be more aggressive.
"I had to learn to play out of rough; I had never seen rough before. For me to finish fifth was … I was super proud of that.”
Appleby said that the standards and opportunities on the secondary tour had improved significantly in the 20 years since his debut in 1995.
Now there are 25 main Tour cards available for the leading finishers to progress to the elite level.
“You tell the guys now that we only played for five cards and you’d think their throats were cut,” Appleby said. “The level of golf has improved, no doubt. The depth is great; the international attraction has gotten stronger.
“Look at the names on the roster and you see that. I was probably one of the first Australians to come over and bypass Europe to try and shoot for the big time on the US tour.
“It's a great foundation for the growth of these individuals. It’s like the spawning grounds of the salmon in these rivers,” he said.
Appleby was to play in the Travelers Championship on TOUR, but he felt he wasn't ready and pulled out to return to his home in Florida where he played four rounds of golf in the heat, pushing a cart.
“It was hard work,” Appleby said. “I got a fair amount of conditioning back. My left leg, my calf has been a little bit out of the business. I started to get a bit of strength so I could walk with a buggy.”
"I've made a good shift physically to where my body was working with me and not against me."
“In racing terms, I’ve got a whole new chassis and need to do a few laps and see how it behaves….”
Appleby underwent surgery for a herniated disc in late March.
One of only six players to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour (2010 Greenbrier Classic), Appleby hasn’t played on Tour since he missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.
He looked at the Web.com Tour schedule and chose his comeback event carefully.
“This felt like the right week to do it,” Appleby said before teeing up in the Nova Scotia tournament. "It’s a beautiful part of the world. The weather is better than central Florida that’s for sure.
“The course is a good challenge. It has quite a bit of topography, a lot of lumpy lies on the fairway. So you really have to watch the path of the club and how you want to shape your shot. It’s a real good test of golf.”
“I just have to be patient and steer it all gently back on the road,” Appleby said.