D.J. Trahan emerges from 'dark place' mentally as he returns to the PGA Tour

September 10, 2019
Korn Ferry Tour Championship - Final Round

Stacy Revere

A pity party, as parties go, is a lonely affair. You don’t throw a pity party. It throws you, to which PGA Tour veteran D.J. Trahan can attest.

A decorated amateur and twice a winner on the PGA Tour, Trahan could not have envisioned how an injury familiar to so many golfers could send his career careening so far off course.

From 2014 through 2019, Trahan, 38, split his time equally between the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, 49 starts on each. The last time he was fully exempt on the PGA Tour was 2012. Thirteen months ago, he was 2,042nd in the World Ranking.

“When I got hurt, it derailed me a little bit,” Trahan said last week. “It actually affected me as much or more mentally than it did physically. Mentally, I went into a dark place. Then I woke up one day and said it’s time to quit the damn pity party, get back to being positive, get back to to the PGA Tour.”

Today, he is ranked 412th in the world. In the Korn Ferry Tour Finals recently he tied for 24th to regain his PGA Tour exemption and will return to the tour this week in A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.

Where does his comeback rank on his career highlight reel? “I would say it’s definitely up there. I have been blessed tremendously,” he said.

His is not a highlight reel without bona fides, either. It includes a U.S. Public Links championship (2000, when he defeated Bubba Dickerson on the 37th hole of the final), an NCAA team championship at Clemson (2003), a Jack Nicklaus Award as the top NCAA Division I player and a Ben Hogan Award as the top college golfer (2002), and victories in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic (2006) and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (2008).

In 2013, Trahan and a friend were fishing off the South Carolina coast when he hooked a redfish. “I got the fish to the boat, reached down, and when I bent over my back just completely went out on me,” he said. “My buddy caught me before I fell into the water. I was crippled.

“When I first started my rehab, I couldn’t move. My body was in lockjaw. It was scary, and I didn’t know what to expect. I had MRIs. I had no clue. It was just lower severe muscle spasms.”

Mentally, the toll eventually took him to the brink of quitting. “Not for very long," he said, "but when I was at my darkest, my most frustrated and negative, at the bottom of the pity party pool, I contemplated it.

“Honestly, when I say pity party, it was me basically being pissed off. I never experienced any kind of injury up to that point. It was a pity party out of frustration. It’s being weak-minded, allowing setbacks to get under your skin, to define your mindset and who you are. Then you start doubting yourself. Am I ever going to get back to the tour, healthy?"

The doubts, he said, "are the cancer of the professional golfer.”

“Life is going to throw you a curve ball and that was my curve ball,” Trahan said. “That’s when I finally woke up one day. I will never get back to where I want to be unless I change my mindset and get some positive energy in my life. It was a conscious decision I made. It was difficult to get out of my way of thinking. Hitting that rock bottom for me, that’s when I snapped out of it. You only get one shot at life and what you love and I love to play golf. That’s when I flipped the script and made that commitment.”

Trahan had a reasonably strong PGA Tour season in 2019, though he was confined to a limited schedule based on his status as a past champion. He played 14 tournaments and finished in the top 10 in three and the top 25 in five, earning more than $500,000.

“I had a very solid season this year,” he said. “It’s difficult to get points accumulated in opposite-field events. But I’m excited where my game is trending.

“In my opinion, I feel like I’ve underachieved in my career. I hope this is an incredible comeback for me. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I feel capable of playing the best golf of my life. Definitely I’m excited about it. It has been a struggle. It was one of the darkest times of my life and I had to figure out a way to get out of where I was. It was a very deep hole and I had to climb out of that hole. I changed my life. I’m a completely different person than I was six, eight years ago when this happened.

“It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever done, getting my card back, but I’m very proud that I’m back.”