SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- On Monday, Chris Wood wasn’t sure if he’d ever make a swing in earnest at the 98th PGA Championship. The lingering effects of what he described as a blocked joint on the right side of his neck, which caused the 28-year-old Englishman to withdraw after only 12 holes at the Open Championship two weeks earlier, were putting his preparation at Baltusrol Golf Club in jeopardy as well.
Wood hadn’t taken a full swing since bowing out at Royal Troon, relegated to some chipping and putting, and a little bit of hoping.
But then came salvation in the form of the warm New Jersey weather. The 90-plus-degree heat that had many in the field grumbling came at an opportune time for the man trying to lock down a spot on the European Ryder Cup team. “Over the last couple days, I’ve started to loosen up and feel better,” said Wood, happy to have worked up a sweat. Good enough in fact to play 18 practice holes Tuesday, another nine Wednesday and then come out and shoot a one-under 69 during Thursday’s first round.
Wood’s injury arose just prior to the Scottish Open the first week of July. Wood, winner of the European Tour’s prestigious BMW PGA Championship in May, had been invited to watch Wimbledon on July 4, before making his way to Castle Stuart in Scotland. The next morning he woke up with a sore neck. “My friends were joking that it was my head going [back and forth] watching the tennis,” Wood said. “But we got to watch from the Royal Box, so it was just straight on.”
The pain and stiffness continued, causing Wood to decide to pull out of the Scottish Open in hopes of getting healthy for Royal Troon the following week. Once there, however, he still wasn’t able to take full swings. On the driving range, Wood frustratingly watched the adjacent scoreboard and the Protracer technology follow the flight of his weakened shots. “It was pretty disheartening to see yourself carrying the ball only 190 yards with the driver,” said Wood. After trying to give it a go (sitting one under through two holes), the hulking 6-foot-5 golfer bagged out of the Open midway through the first round.
Wood still isn’t sure exactly how he hurt himself -- a scan revealed that he does not have an issue with a bulging disk. All he knows is the injury came at a miserable time, in the midst of the three-time European Tour winner fighting to make his first Ryder Cup team. Wood sits fourth on the European Tour points, with the top four as of Aug. 22 earning spots on the squad. He could also get an automatic spot based on his position on the World Points list.
Still, Wood knows that until things are official, he can’t rest easy. Even after a conversation with European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke on the Wednesday of Open Championship week. “He told me to chill out and get myself fit,” Wood said. “I think I’ve got myself fit, but I haven’t been able to chill out yet.”
A good week at Baltusrol will hopefully put his mind at ease as he prepares for another big life event -- his wedding to fiancé, Bethany, in August. The original plan was a honeymoon sometime in September. But Wood says that has already been delayed until the end of the year, freeing him up to be very available for a trip to Hazeltine National.