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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 12, 200112:00 PM EST

On the comeback trail

Golfer Deb Richard is healthy and back on tour
by: Michele Newbern Gillis

After years of playing golf in pain, Deb Richard is finally pain free.

Following three surgeries, two on her shoulder and one on her leg, she is ready to make her mark once again on the golf course.

“Starting in 1992, I played nine years straight hurt,” said Richard. “I had three surgeries since then. That part’s tough because it beats you up mentally. You can recover physically. The human body is an incredible mechanism. Its ability to recover and become stronger and better is phenomenal. But, mentally playing hurt is one of the most debilitating things I’ve ever experienced.”

Richard said playing hurt was also very challenging.

“Day to day you have to get up and you have to play,” she said. “You don’t know what your body is going to be able to do, because it’s hurt. You are not playing at 100 percent. There are times when I played as low as 40 percent.”

She said it was very frustrating mentally because there are things you know you can do, but your body won’t let you.

But, now that she is better, she is ready to try again.

“For me, right now, it’s getting back on the golf course, knowing I’m healthy, knowing I can do it and convincing myself,” said Richard. “I don’t care how strong I believe it; physically I have to re-hit all those shots to believe it. It takes a long time to experience all those shots to get that edge back. I’m getting close, I’m getting really close.”

Even though her last surgery was in September 2000, Richard went back out on tour in January.

“Was I ready to play? No. But, you know you’ve got to get your feet wet,” she said. “You can only stay home and practice for so long to get ready. You’ve got to get back out there and compete. It’s the only to get that edge back. You can’t get the edge back at home, you have to be under fire.”

Richard played very poorly her first week out, which she expected.

“And then I went through a series of weeks where I kept missing the cut by one,” said Richard. “I wasn’t playing bad, things just weren’t happening. It’s very hard to get your edge back when you are not getting positive feedback. That has just been the biggest challenge of the year.”

Her main aspiration is to win the U.S. Open Championship.

“I’m starting to shoot better and I’m starting to get over the edge, but it takes consecutive weeks of positive reinforcement to really get all the way back,” said Richard. “During the course of every round, I don’t care how great a round you are playing or how poor a round you are playing, there is always one point in the round that is a defining moment that will determine will this be a great day, an OK day or a bad day. For me it’s getting there and having something good happen at that point.”

After her latest surgery she started rehabilitation. She works out with a trainer , doing conditioning and strength work.

“Golf is an endurance sport,” she said. “You have to exert yourself over a long period of time.”

Richard plans to be a Top 20 player again.

“Physically, I’m there,” she said. “In so many ways, this year has been the year to get myself back. It’s really been a year of re-establishing myself and doing the basic things.”

Richard’s first encounter with pain came from a birth defect in her shoulder. Normal shoulder blades should slide as they ride over the rib cage as a person moves their shoulders.

Richard’s left shoulder blade had a clip on the back of her scapula (shoulder blade) that was lodged into her ribs, thus inhibiting it from sliding.

“The only way my shoulder blade would move is if it popped off and out. So, I had no thoracic rotation,” said Richard. “My whole upper back stayed in a locked in a position so it got to a point where I couldn’t take the club half way back.”

Richard didn’t know what was wrong.

In 1995, through the Ladies Professional Golf Association and Alabama Sports Medicine, she met Dr. William Clancy, who operates on tennis players and golfers.

“It’s probably more prevalent than people know, but you have to have done one of those repetitive motion activities to make it surface,” said Richard.

Clancy went in and shaved the backside of her scapula.

“I had been in excruciating pain in the upper part of my back with constant spasms,” said Richard. “Two week after surgery, it was fine and has never bothered me again. It was wonderful.”

But as a result of having that condition, she injured her left shoulder.

“That caught up with me. Once the first pain was gone, you start noticing all the other things you’ve done to yourself,” she said.

In 1997, Clancy performed shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum.

Her latest injury forced her to sit out a year.

“I have no idea what happened last year, it was a freakiest thing I have ever experienced,” she said. “Nobody knows what started it or anything. My right hip locked up; I was having side pain. My groin locked up and my whole right leg was just a mess. I had no strength in it and it wouldn’t go away.”

Richard tried therapy and exercise, but the leg wouldn’t respond.

Finally, she had a laperoscopic surgery, which revealed a group of fired up points in her nerve endings that wrapped around her leg and groin area. Dr. Daniel McDyer at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville cauterized the nerve endings and she walked out of the hospital pain free.

“There are some things I definitely want to accomplish before the year is done to set myself up to really get back to who I was,” she said. “I need to get myself in a position to win. I need to play well enough to have a shot at winning on Sunday [final round]. You want to be within a couple shots and feel the pressure that you have a shot at winning this.”

Richard started at playing golf at age 11 in Kansas.

“Our family took it up together,” said Richard. “I had played all other sports and I had very good hand/eye coordination, which made other sports really easy. I started playing golf and I was terrible. It was the first sport I had ever played that I truly had to learn everything else came so instinctive to me.”

The club pro at her home course in Kansas taught her to play golf.

“That got me excited,” she said. “I think that was pretty cool that someone saw enough in me to want to do that [teach her].”

When she was 12, she competed in her first tournament, and won.

“I didn’t shoot anything wonderful. I think I shot a 104 or 111, something ridiculous like that, but I won,” said Richard. “It was such a unique experience for me because every other sport I had played was a team sport.”

Richard quarterbacked a girl’s football team, was a guard in basketball and a shortstop and third baseman on a traveling softball team.

“Everything was always team oriented. Results weren’t always reflective of your energy,” she said. “Golf is so reflective of your own input. That was very exciting to me especially at that young of an age.”

That experience inspired Richard to make a career of playing golf.

“It has been an interesting road,” said Richard. “I wouldn’t trade my career for anything in the world. It has incredible highs and the lows are low. If there is anything I would wish for, its that I wouldn’t have been hurt so much. It has been quite a distraction.”

Richard lives in Marsh Landing Country Club in house she built in 1992. She tweaked its design to suit her own style.

“I’m a claustrophobic type of person and I wanted a house that was open,” said Richard. “I also wanted two master suites. For me it was all about my parents. I wanted them to be able to have a nice suite with a nice bathroom. I’ve never regretted it. It’s a unique design and it makes it a whole lot of fun for my family.”

In addition to being roomy, Richard’s house is situated on a cul de sac with a large back yard and lots of trees, which give her a buffer from the noisy Ponte Vedra Beach traffic only minutes away.

“I really, really love it here,” she said. “It’s comfortable and peaceful. It’s a great place to live. When I moved here, Ponte Vedra Beach was a quiet, sleepy place. When I think of what was here then and what is here now, it’s phenomenal. It’s a very special place to me and I’m very proud of it. This is what I work so hard for.”

Richard recently added a pool to her back yard and grows rose bushes.

“I see it as a property in transition, because I’m constantly doing things to it,” she said. “There are a lot of different things you can do.”

Richard’s home course is Pablo Creek.

“That’s where I do all my practicing,” she said. “I also enjoy Marsh Landing. Since I travel so much, when I home I’m not that interested in playing. I’ll work on my game and practice, but that’s about it.”

Richard is sponsored by Titleist and Alan Industries.

“I represent their company by playing their clubs and golf balls. I also wear their shoes, clothes visors and hats while I’m on tour.

Richard, who had been on tour for 16 years, pays for her own room and board on tour, but her sponsors pay for her equipment.

During that time technology has changed the women’s game dramatically.

“It has changed the game phenomenally,” she said. “Technology has made the average player play much better. Golf clubs are more forgiving and golf balls go further. It’s a huge difference.”

Even though younger players like Se Ri Pak, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam are joining the game, Richard isn’t worried about the competition.

“Can I go out there and win six or seven times a year like them? I don’t know that I can,” said Richard. “Can I beat them? Yes, absolutely. Can I win on tour two or three times a year? Sure. The hardest thing is that they never have bad weeks. That is the most depressing thing to watch. Today’s young players are better athletes. Little girls are growing up knowing that being a professional golfer is very viable.”

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