Champion Australian golfer Stuart Appleby doesn’t know when he’ll be ready to resume tournament golf – but he knows he’s finally on the right path.
Appleby has spent much of 2015 in intense pain caused by a herniated disc in his back.
But almost a month on from surgery to his lumbosacral joint (L5 S1), the Victorian is hopeful he could return to the range by May 1, his 44th birthday.
“I’d be pretty happy with that,” Appleby said from his Orlando home.
“I just started back in the gym and I’m only doing basic stuff as the disc is still scarring up (and) my focus is on getting my left glute to function as it's been a wreck.”
Appleby, who has long managed a series of back injuries, largely through osteopathy, has endured severe pain after it flared dramatically in mid-February and jolted his spinal nerve.
“It came to a head again on the range on the weekend of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am when I was finishing up with some drivers (and) a shot sent a massive shock through my sacrum area (lower back) that was quite frightening,” he said.
“The LA Open was the next week and, as it progressed, the issue got worse and by the first round in warm-up I couldn't see the point in continuing through the compromised swing I had to make.
“I came home and things got real bad once I got off the plane – I even got asked if I needed a wheelchair, I must have looked bad.
“I spent a few weeks trying to kill the pain and work out what options I had to get back to normal.
“I had major issues with a weak left leg as the nerve signal was impeded and I was advised that this poor signal strength needed to be cleared to take away a chance that it scars and never comes back to 100 per cent (and that would mean) career over.
“So surgery was the direction I took and I'm still very much in recovery as the nervous system has its own agenda on speed of recovery.
“But I’ve had a slight but noticeable improvement in the left leg’s signal strength, so I’m on the mend.”
The nine-time winner on the US PGA Tour withdrew at the last minute before the Emirates Australian Open in November after suffering through his pro-am round.
He also withdrew moments before the second round in defence of his Australian Masters crown in 2011.
And he can now trace the whole painful series of events back to one swing just months before that in preparation for his 14th tilt at the US Masters.
“This really came four years at the 2011 Shell Houston Open after hitting some balls on a slope on the range getting ready for Augusta,” he said.
“After that session I pulled up pretty bad for the next few weeks and have been in and out of a working golf swing since.”
Appleby, who led the Masters into the final day in 2007 before finishing seventh, battled fiercely to be fit for that tournament, but missed the cut despite some outstanding form dating back to his Greenbrier Classic win in August 2010 when he shot his famous 59.
For now, he’s happy to be playing “homemaker” to his young family.
But there’s no doubt in his mind that, despite uncertainty on an exact date, that golf is still on the agenda.
“I’m not sure really on when I think it's 100 per cent ready for Tour golf, but maybe a month from now I'll have a better idea.”