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Meehan: Kayla Mortellaro bounces back from surgery

Kayla Mortellaro, like most competitors in the sporting world, wanted to avoid surgery.

She was willing to devote countless hours rehabilitating her ailing left shoulder if the end result was a pain-free golf swing.

When it became clear physical therapy wasn’t going to resolve her shoulder issues, Mortellaro had no choice but to accept option two.

“Shoulders are one of the toughest things to have operated on,” said Mortellaro, the former Idaho Vandal whose 2013 rookie season on the LPGA was cut short by the injury. “However, this was a best-case scenario. A worst-case scenario would have been a torn labrum.

“They found out I had a bone that was hooked and it was causing pinching on my rotator cuff. It wouldn’t have mattered how much rehab I was going to do. They shaved that bone down and cleaned up some fraying around the labrum.”

Mortellaro had surgery in August. After months of rest and rehab, she started chipping in February, gradually working her way up to three-quarter and full swings.

“It definitely feels a whole lot better,” the Phoenix native said. “My last appointment was in March and I’m full go.”

Mortellaro was granted a medical extension, allowing her entry into four LPGA tournaments this season. She played in 11 events last year and would have played in 15 if she had stayed healthy. “So they gave me four more,” she said.

Her first tournament will be the Manulife Financial in June in Waterloo, Ontario. At the end of June she’ll play in the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship. After a two-week break, she’ll tee it up at the Marathon Classic in Ohio. Her fourth event will be the Meijer LPGA Classic in early August in Michigan.

Mortellaro’s challenge will be playing well enough in those four tournaments that, when coupled with her 2013 earnings of $9,870, she can retain playing privileges by making the top 125. She’s focused more on getting her game in good shape than the dollars.

“I’ve actually gained some height on my shot, which is very helpful,” she said. “I really struggled with balls hitting and skipping on the greens.”

Mortellaro stayed busy during her extended time away from the course. She put her public relations degree to work, co-hosting a radio golf show and running the boards for a sports-talk program on AM-1060 in Phoenix. Her duties included attending numerous Phoenix Suns games and collecting postgame interviews.

“A ton of fun,” she said. “You’re not watching as a much as a fan but with a more critical point of view. I was paying attention to how (the players) handled things, win or lose, and how I could relate it back to myself.”

Mortellaro has kept a close eye on the LPGA, which is off to a rousing start with popular winners in Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Karrie Webb, Jessica Korda and Paula Creamer.

“It’s crazy to think Lexi and Lydia are younger than me,” Mortellaro said. “I played with Lexi at the Kia Classic. I remember teeing off on the first hole. She’s hitting 3-wood, I’m hitting driver. I was about 30 yards behind her. She busted out the driver and I’m 70 yards behind her. She absolutely kills the ball.”

Mortellaro has gained some length, but she’ll probably never be in same neighborhood of the LPGA’s longest hitters.

“I’m able to swing a little harder and have more club-head speed,” she said, “but I’m not going to worry about it. I’ll focus on other parts of my game.”

Seems like a healthy approach.

Volunteer coming home

The Tennessee golf team will travel across the country for the NCAA West Regional Thursday-next Saturday at Tumble Creek in Cle Elum, Washington, and one Volunteer couldn’t be happier.

Senior Chessey Thomas, who attended St. George’s and played golf for Lewis and Clark, is Tennessee’s top player.

“I’m super excited to be headed back to my home state for a second time,” said Thomas, who had a hole-in-one in the 2011 West Regional at Washington National in Auburn, Washington. “Golf courses in the Pacific Northwest are always in great shape and unique. I am biased but I think us heading west is a great draw.”

Thomas carries a 73.9 scoring average and was the Vols’ top finisher in seven of 10 tournaments. She won the Lady Bulldog Invitational in February with a two-round total of 147. Thomas was named second-team All-SEC.

The trip to Tumble Creek will be much shorter for Gonzaga, which is seeded 17th in the West Regional. Tennessee is seeded 19th.