Bay Hill Golf

D.A. Points walks off the sixth green after making a putt during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Thursday, March 7, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

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During the golf season, there’s a ritual I follow each weekend. I check the scores of former Illini on the various pro tours. There are a bunch of them, both in the U.S. and overseas.

Lately, there’s been a name missing. It turns out, for a very good reason.

Former Illini D.A. Points, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, is out for the rest of the season after having neck surgery 10 weeks ago. The problems go back three or four years, when Points started feeling numbness in his right thumb, index and middle finger. Those are important digits for a golfer.

He had compressed nerves in his neck.

Last September, Points had a minor neck procedure. It helped with his middle and index fingers, but did not relieve the numbness in his thumb.

At the time, Points had just tied for fourth at the Wyndham Championship.

“I was like, ‘Maybe I can still play even though I still have some of this numbness,’” Points said.

He competed in 11 events early in 2019.

“I wasn’t playing terrible,” Points said, “but I wasn’t playing well.”

He started to feel worse at the Texas Open, where he withdrew after the first round.

Points took the week of the Masters off, then returned for the Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. The numbness was still a problem, so Points looked for a better solution.

In Orlando, Fla., Points had an artificial disc put between his C5 and C6 vertebrae. The surgery was performed at the Mason Spine Institute by Dr. Robert Mason. He has also worked on the necks of golfers Brian Gay and Rory Sabbatini.

“He really, really helped them,” Points said.

Golf is not a contact sport. So, how did Points get hurt in the first place?

“Years of repetition,” he said.

Future plans

Points is practicing again.

He is not in pain now. And has never been in pain. The only sign of injury was numbness.

“I was like, ‘Man, I really don’t feel that bad. If I didn’t play professional golf, I may not have done anything,’” Points said.

But it’s difficult to play against Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson with balky fingers.

“It was a huge distraction,” Points said. “There’s a lot of stuff that we’re dealing with out there.”

Some numbness still lingers in his thumb. Points will have more tests next week to see if everything is progressing as it should. The damaged nerve needs to regenerate.

He will be back on the PGA Tour. But not until next season. He has a medical exemption that allows him to sit out tournaments while retaining his playing privileges going forward.

When he returns in the fall, Points will have a set number of tournaments to move back among the top 125 players.

Points, 42, wants to be back to full health when he plays for pay again.

Pro golf is thriving. Woods winning the Masters provided a boost.

“Absolutely,” Points said. “Tiger makes our business go. We all want him back and healthy and playing well. Hopefully, he’ll have a good Open Championship.”

Points follows the tournaments, but maybe not as closely as if he was playing now.

“I check the leaderboard,” Points said. “If some of my closer friends on Tour are playing well, I’ll certainly tune in.”

His list of close friends on Tour includes Jimmy Walker, Chris Stroud, Zach Johnson and Charles Howell III.

“We’re all about the same age and we all have families and similar situations,” Points said. “We all have kind of come up together.”

Keeping busy

Of course, Points misses playing in tournaments. Especially this week. He has been a regular at the John Deere Classic in Silvis.

“I’ve been playing professional golf for 20 years,” Points said. “It’s frustrating.”

Not playing on Tour means more quality time at his Florida home with wife Lori, daughter Laila and son Charlie.

They were in Chicago for 10 days in June and went with friends to the mountains of North Carolina for the Fourth of July.

Earlier this week, he stopped by the JDC to have his clubs re-gripped and get the loft checked.

“I saw a bunch of my friends,” Points said. “It’s been tough.”

Points spent the rest of the week in his hometown of Pekin. The D.A. Points Junior Golf Championship was played at Pekin Country Club.

Points planned to visit Thursday with Illinois men’s golf coach Mike Small. Points keeps tabs on the growing contingent of Illini pro golfers.

“It gives me great pride, the fact that we all share the common bond of being Illini,” Points said. “It’s cool. Mike has done a really good job of not only creating a great program, but he also has developed a lot of really good people. They get it.”

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).