By William Qualkinbush
CLEMSON — Crawford Reeves has been playing golf for almost as long as he has been walking and talking, so anything that can keep him away from the game for a period of several months has to be pretty severe.
Such is the nature of the back injury that sidelined the Clemson junior for the entire fall portion of the Tigers’ 2011-‘12 schedule. Head Coach Larry Penley has missed the leadership provided by Reeves, who was the team’s top player during its NCAA Tournament run last season.
Reeves’ first competition in several months came from February 2-5 in the Jones Cup, a three-round tournament at the Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, GA. He finished in a tie for 32nd with a score of 12-over-par.
Simply completing the tournament was a victory for Reeves. Such a positive step has been a long time coming for the Greenville native, who reported no ill effects of the competition on his back.
“He finished the 54 holes, which was really good,” Penley said. “I think there was a little discomfort there. I think he was unsure how his back was going to react. I think he’s going to be 100%.”
Penley and the rest of the Clemson men’s golf program hopes Reeves is fully recovered soon, as the schedule ramps up in difficulty in preparation for the postseason in a few months. The team functioned without one of its key cogs for the entire fall, which was frustrating for all parties involved.
Unable to compete with his teammates and relegated to watching his teammates develop chemistry without him, Reeves became discouraged and relied on the positive vibes contributed by his teammates and coaches to maintain an optimistic outlook on his situation.
“In the fall, I tried to come back a couple of times and get back into it,” he said. “They always had the confidence in me, even when I got pretty discouraged at times. They gave me a little extra encouragement, which really helped.”
One of the residual effects of Reeves’ absence from the links was he was forced to work on his chipping and putting just to keep a club in his hands. The Tiger junior freely admits putting has been his main weakness for years, so he hopes his personal calamity will end up helping in the long run.
In the meantime, Penley says the recovery is not quite complete for Reeves. Mentally, both coach and player recognize that there is more work to be done before the Tigers can return to a peak performance level.
“He needs to get confidence that he’s not going to go to his knees in pain with that driver,” Penley said. “That’s a little bit of a hurdle right there. There are still some tentative swings there that I know are directly related to his injury. It’s something mental that he’s got to get over.”
For Reeves, the adrenaline a golf round provides is the perfect distraction from the discomfort he still feels. The mental aspect may not be back in full, but physically, he says the pain now functions as a reminder that he has played, rather than as a hindrance to his play.
“I’ve been a little sore after I get done playing lately,” Reeves said. “My back actually bothers me more when I’m not playing, which I guess is a good thing. Overall, I’m feeling much better.”