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Golf with Jim Meehan: Getting back into the swing after knee replacement surgery

Spokesman-Review sports writer Jim Meehan writes a weekly column during the golf season.
 (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokesman-Review sports writer Jim Meehan writes a weekly column during the golf season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It was an unremarkable first swing of the season.

Driver on No. 1 at the Coeur d’Alene Golf Club on a chilly April day that found the right-center of the fairway. Not particularly long or well struck. A low liner with a gentle fade.

The golfer didn’t mutter a word to his playing partners but inside he was quite pleased.

That would be me.

The opening of golf season, the first swing, first birdie, first round, even the first errant shot is eagerly anticipated but it carried more significance this spring.

I was testing some new equipment. I wish it was the latest drivers from Callaway or TaylorMade. Instead, it was my right knee.

I benched my arthritic, bone-on-bone joint for a new model in late August. I could deal with the nagging pain that grew more intense over the last 3-4 years. I objected to missing out on water skiing and family hikes, not to mention shorter drives and a rising handicap. Walking nine holes became a chore.

I knew my swing had changed. My life-long hook had transitioned to a fade (read: slice) the last few years.

For years I told my doctor when I wasn’t able to break 80 on a semi-regular basis I would be in his office the next day. That’s just about how it worked out, though the tipping point was hobbling through the Minneapolis airport to barely make a tight connection.

Roughly seven months after surgery, my first nine-hole tour was encouraging. Hit it fine, other than two lousy drives that led to a double and a bogey.

Then I played two rounds for an upcoming S-R golf section. Soared past 80 by No. 15 both times.

I needed to vent with someone who could relate. A friend directed me to Andy Hite, pro at Colville’s Dominion Meadows. He’s on the opposite end of the bad knee scale from me. He hurt his left knee playing high school football and doctors discovered that he either didn’t have an ACL or it hadn’t developed properly.

“I started playing golf when I was 27,” Hite said. “My knee was an issue for all the other sports so I decided I better try this nerdy sport. It was about all that was left for me competition wise so I really got into it.”

Hite initially participated in long-drive competitions and made the national finals, but wailing on the golf ball wasn’t the best medicine for his knee. He turned pro at age 30 and was quite accomplished, even as his left leg grew steadily weaker.

He modified his golf swing to play off his right side and stable right knee. He was losing distance but kept his scores down with a sharp short game.

“The last 4 or 5 years I didn’t play much golf,” said Hite, who also gave up hiking and biking. “I’d go play and couldn’t do much for 3-4 days. It wasn’t worth it.”

Here, here.

Hite had knee replacement last May. A 90-minute surgery ended up lasting 3-plus hours because his joint had moved out and down, leaving some ligaments stretched and some shortened.

Hite rehabbed meticulously and returned to the course in November, progressing from half-swing wedges to full swings. His game wasn’t great initially but he’s made steady progress. He’s won the senior division a few times in Monday pro-ams.

It was reassuring to hear that he’s dealing with several of the same issues I’ve experienced.

“I’m not playing like I really should but at least I’m playing and back in competition and that gets me going,” Hite said. “I never got to my left side for 20-25 years so it feels totally different. Some of my issue was just the fear. I wasn’t sure if my left leg would hold me.”

Hite teaches during winter months at a couple of courses in Arizona, often working with older clients sporting new knees, hips or shoulders.

“It’s sort of built-in, anyone with issues gets referred to me,” Hite said. “It’s kind of fun to see if we can put those pieces back together.”

I can relate. It feels like I’m relearning my swing at times, but it’s early in the process. After talking with Andy, I’m convinced it’ll get better with time.

If not, I’ve got Andy’s number just in case.


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