Editor’s note: Tulsan Bo Van Pelt returns to the PGA Tour this week after a three-plus year battle to regain his health. Van Pelt will play in the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort and Spa North in Napa, Calif., where Edmond North and fellow Oklahoma State graduate Kevin Tway is the defending champion.
Below is an excerpt from the story by John Rohde of Van Pelt’s rehabilitation and the surgery that finally has him playing pain free again. The full story updated with his return will be in the Oct.-Nov. Issue of Golf Oklahoma. Click here to subscribe or pick one up at your local pro shop.
By John Rohde
For a span of four PGA Tour seasons, Bo Van Pelt’s injured right shoulder showed no signs of healing. Oddly enough, the former Oklahoma State All-American viewed this as a good thing because he never carried any false hope of physically being able to return to professional golf.
“The past 3½ years, I haven’t missed a shot that mattered,” Van Pelt explained. “I think there’s an advantage to that as far as not having the mental scars of playing bad, or trying to play through an injury, or trying to make a comeback that way. I wasn’t even getting close to that point in my mind just because of the pain I was having.”
In the winter of 2015, Van Pelt reached into the back seat of his truck to grab one of his kid’s backpacks. “I lifted it and it was probably 20 pounds heavier that I thought it would be,” Van Pelt explained. “I tried to play through the pain for a couple months. I played in the Phoenix Open (in early February) and was in top 10 going into the weekend (after shooting back-to-back 68s). By the weekend, I couldn’t even put my arm behind my back it hurt so bad. I tried to play the following week (at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and thought, ‘Man, I’ve got to go home and get an MRI.”
Test results showed Van Pelt had shredded roughly 85 percent of the labrum in his right shoulder when he lifted that overweight backpack. “There really was nothing I could do except have surgery,” Van Pelt said. “They told me I was going to be out a year, at least.”
After a year, Van Pelt’s shoulder wasn’t getting any better. He was unable to hit long irons and his driver, so more surgery was scheduled.
“They went back in and cleaned it up,” Van Pelt said. “They found nine bone spurs in my AC (acromioclavicular) joint and thought that would help, removing those. Again, I just wasn’t getting any better. I couldn’t practice. As soon as I hit one shot that hurt, every shot after that just kept getting worse.”
It marked the first time Van Pelt had missed time on tour because of injury since he turned pro in 1998.
“I was doing everything the doctors were telling me,” Van Pelt said. “I was rehabbing it all the time. From a golf standpoint, I just couldn’t get there. I guess that was the blessing in disguise. It definitely was frustrating, but I thoroughly enjoyed the time at home with my wife (Carrie) and kids (Olivia, Chase and Crew). I had been on the road pretty much 17 years in a row, so that was definitely a blessing.”
Late in the summer of 2018, Van Pelt’s right hand would go numb when he tried to practice. “I pretty much thought I was done with golf, to be quite honest,” Van Pelt said.
Just before Christmas, Van Pelt went to an orthopedic surgeon in Dallas and asked, “Is there anything I haven’t tried? I’m kind of to the point where I need a ‘Hail Mary.’ ”
The doctor referred Van Pelt to vascular surgeon Dr. Gregory Pearl, who was just down the street in Dallas.
Van Pelt was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which is described as “a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves are compressed in the space between your collarbone and your first rib.”
Pearl informed Van Pelt, “I need to remove your first rib and I think you’re going to be OK. There’s no stretching or therapy that’s going to fix that area, so I need to take your rib out.”
Van Pelt replied, “Look, I’m willing to try anything.”
Surgery was performed in late January this year and after a month of soreness, which was expected, Van Pelt began feeling progress. “It changed my life in terms of continuing to improve,” Van Pelt said. “It took me a while to get my strength back and my range of motion and everything. It finally got to a point where I could get out there and see how I can play.”
Van Pelt said removing the rib was a far more complex procedure than Pearl described. . . .
For the full fascinating story, along with profiles of every player with Oklahoma ties on the PGA Tour in 2020, again be sure to read the Oct.-Nov. issue of Golf Oklahoma.