Sam Burns had a successful rookie season on the PGA Tour in 2018-’19, qualifying for the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The only problem? He never got to play in them.
The former LSU All-American and college player of the year in 2017 heard a pop when he landed wrong on his right foot while playing basketball in July with friends near his home in Louisiana. A flood of thoughts overcame him: How bad is it? Do I need surgery? Will things ever be the same?
A day later, an ankle specialist handed him a boot and crutches while delivering some bad news: He’d broken his ankle in two places. Season over.
“It was frustrating, missing the playoffs,” Burns told GolfDigest.com on Tuesday, having made 16 cuts in 28 starts, with three top-10s and six top-25 finishes. “I wanted to be out there.”
Thankfully, Burns didn’t need surgery, just rest, and managed to recover relatively quickly. He ditched the crutches after a few weeks and began chipping and putting, swapping the boot for an ankle brace. A little less than two months after the injury, the 23-year-old was able to hit his driver again.
Things continued to steadily improve, allowing Burns to return to action at the 2019-’20 season opener at The Greenbrier. Since then, he’s been making up for lost time, playing at the Sanderson Farms and the Shriners, and he’s competing again this week at the Houston Open.
Four starts in five weeks. No rest for the anxious, though Burns’ return is still a work in progress. In his first three starts, he has two missed cuts sandwiched around a T-45. He is also still wearing an ankle brace and undergoes physical therapy nearly every day.
“My ankle wouldn’t do stuff that was necessary in my swing,” Burns said. “It gave me inconsistency with my ball-striking. My body was holding back, keeping me from off my right side and into my left.”
Sure enough, Burns strokes gained/approach-to-the-green stat is -.994 thus far in 2019-’20, ranking 216th, and his greens in regulation (63.19 percent) ranks tied for 208th.
Burns talked to his coach, Brad Pullin, about trying to adjust his swing to compensate for the limitation, but the two deciding to wait to see if a little more time would bring with it a return to usage. “If I could change anything,” Burns said, “I guess I would’ve waited a little longer [to return].”
In the last few days, however, Burns says he is starting to feel like he’s got his full range of motion back and is able to do everything he wants.
His top goal for the 2019-’20 season?
“Make it to the Tour Championship,” he said. “What comes along with that checks off a lot of other goals I want to achieve as well.”
Just being able to play is a good start.