Surviving a rookie season on the PGA Tour is difficult enough, but Crystal Lake's Joe Affrunti went through a nightmare in his first four months on golf's premier circuit.
While Affrunti qualified for his PGA Tour card by finishing in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list last season, that status didn't assure him many tournament appearances. He's played just six times, and struggled.
In those six tournaments Affrunti survived the 36-hole cut only twice. His earnings entering this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans are just $18,837. To say he'll have to step it up if he's to keep his card is putting it mildly.
For Affrunti, though, the problem has been as much his health as the stern competition he's now facing.
Five weeks ago Affrunti entered the Nationwide Tour's Louisiana Open to get himself some competition. He felt tightness in his left shoulder, and daily massages didn't improve the situation. That led to Affrunti withdrawing after his Saturday round -- even though a paycheck would have been assured had he played on Sunday.
"I went home to see an orthopedic guy at Rush Hospital," said Affrunti. "He said I had rotator cuff tendinitis, and I didn't touch a club for three weeks."
Along with the rest, Affrunti was given cortisone pills and an exercise program. He returned to the PGA Tour at the Valero Texas Open, shot 72-79, missed the cut again and realized his health problems weren't over yet.
"I tried, but my should was super, super stiff -- more of a throbbing pain," he said.
At least Affrunti feels he's now able to play, and his season could be revived over the next few weeks when he has a steady diet of tournaments.
"I'll just suck it up," he said. "I'll play five of the next six weeks, either on the Nationwide or PGA Tour, and I hope to get things going. Then after that come the qualifiers for the U.S. Open and British Open. I'm better the more I play -- hopefully."
The only week that Affrunti won't be playing over the next six is The Players Championship, considered the "fifth major" on the PGA circuit.
"I'd be in that if I win at New Orleans," said Affrunti, who starred at Illinois and won the Illinois Open in 2004. "If I do that no one will know I had a bad start to the year."
A winner again:
Wilmette's Eric Meierdierks was a surprise winner at last year's Illinois Open and hasn't done much since. Like Affrunti, that was understandable. Meierdierks had back problems after competing on Arizona's Gateway Tour following his Illinois Open win at Hawthorn Woods in August.
Meierdierks needed four months of therapy before being cleared to play, and last week he proved he was ready to go. Shooting 64-68-65, Meierdierks claimed a $14,000 check for winning a Gateway stop in Chandler, Ariz.
Illinois' next events on the PGA and LPGA Tours have issued their first sponsor's exemptions.
The LPGA's State Farm Classic, June 10-13 at Panther Creek in Springfield, has gone invited Brooke Beeler, a Texas Christian University junior from Butler, Ill., a 40-mile drive from the tourney site.
John Daly requested and received an invite to the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic at the TPC at John Deere Run in Silvis on July 4-10. Daly, making his first appearance there since 2007, will play in the Monday and Wednesday pro-ams as well as the tourney.
Did you know?
Illinois coach Mike Small is winning again. He captured an Illinois PGA stroke play event at Bloomington Country Club on Monday, shooting a 69 to beat Elgin's Jonathan Duppler by two shots. … Wilson has signed a three-year agreement with the Illinois PGA as a sponsor of the Illinois Open. … Oak Park's Frank Bruno has joined the IPGA board of directors as the replacement for Mark Miller. Miller, who had been at Sportsman's, resigned after making a career change. … Rick Jacobson just celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Libertyville golf design company. … The Weekly Challenge Tour, now in its 21st season, stops at Pine Meadow in Mundelein today and Hilldale in Hoffman Estates next Wednesday.
• Len's Ziehm's golf column appears each Wednesday in the Daily Herald and online at dailyherald.com.