Bob Estes had a bad lie.
Over the last year or more, one of the best golfers to ever play at the University of Texas has undergone all sorts of setbacks, some physical, some personal and all of them temporarily life-altering. But the affable, hard-grinding, 51-year-old Austinite continues to play through a tough stretch.
Like an emotionally painful, lengthy divorce finalized last October that ended his eight-year marriage. Like a painful shoulder impingement and strained left wrist tendons that required four kinds of therapy and sidelined him for almost a year.
Like, well, cedar fever.
But Estes has come out of it in good shape and with a positivity that he’ll rely on as he goes about the next chapter in his professional life. He’s got his mental and physical self back together and even fought back against those allergies, switching to a gluten-free, dairy-free diet that, coupled with his rigorous training, has trimmed his weight to a trim 175 pounds.
“I did get down to 171, 172 pounds,” Estes said with a laugh. “They can call me flat belly again. I feel better every day as opposed to 10 or even 20 years ago. Now if I can just get my golf game in order.”
That’s priority No. 1 as he resumes a decorated career that began with consecutive All-American seasons as a Longhorn and solid results that included a PGA Tour rookie of the year award, four Tour wins and more than $21.4 million in earnings. Two of those victories came in 2001 when he finished a career-best ninth on the money list.
He’s been a fierce competitor with a brilliant short game and hopes to parlay those skills and some residue muscle memory as he embarks on the next stage of his life. Heck, this is a guy who’s as feisty on Twitter as he will be in Tucson. He’s tweeted more than 41,000 times, whether he’s advising Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to not run from Arkansas cops or telling frustrated Longhorns basketball fans to “take all the tape and burn it.”
He’s also witty enough to tweet that “since ‘they’ might be listening to my private conversations, I no longer talk to myself.” If he did, he’d remind himself he has a lot of game left even though he’s missed the cut in six of seven events the last two seasons.
Estes is making his debut on the PGA Champions Tour at the Tucson Conquistadore Classic this week, joining a talented rookie class that includes Steve Stricker, David Toms, Jerry Kelly and Jose Maria Olazabal although the latter isn’t in this field.
Estes could have a few things working in his favor. He’ll be playing alongside many of the same golfers he counted as friends and rivals on the regular Tour, and he’ll tee off Friday on familiar territory at the bunker-heavy Catalina course that he’s played 11 times before and where he finished in the top 25 in four different tournaments. He once tied for third there in 1996.
How familiar? He dug out his yardage book and course notes from those days at Tucson. Maybe that will offset his lack of playing time since he’s competed in only nine events since the fall of 2013.
That comfort and the knowledge that there are no missed cuts and only three rounds on the Champions Tour should further bolster his confidence although he’s purposefully setting the bar low. But he’s healthy. His improved training regimen and weight loss from a high of 200 pounds have put less pressure on his lower back. The mental side could take a little longer.
“I don’t really have any expectations,” Estes said last week. “I’m just looking to play better than I’ve been playing.”
He has tweaked his game and thinks he’s on the way back. He’s fully aware with one fewer round of play than on the regular Tour, however, all Champions players had better get off to a fast start if they want to contend.
“My game hasn’t been very good,” he conceded. “It’s not that I’m playing terrible, just not good enough. I’ve been kind of searching. My health is great. It’s just a matter of getting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
He’s back from the injury to his shoulder, which first cropped up in a tournament at Wyndham in 2013. With the help of trainer Scott Hennig — a former world-class pole vaulter — and UT sports chiropractor Robert Meyer, he’s overcome that shoulder impingement and a wrist injury. Before that, he had some success at Mayakoba with four rounds in the 60s in November 2014, tying for 10th.
A major medical exemption has allowed him entry into 26 Tour events. He’s used up nine of those, so he’s having to mix and match the best courses for him to take advantage of those entry exceptions. He’s not ready to give up on the PGA Tour even though he hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a tournament since 2014. He still ranks 51st on the active career money list and plans on making more.
“I’m not done with the PGA Tour,” he said. “I’m going to go play Tucson and see how it goes. I’m still hoping and planning on playing on the PGA Tour for another two, three or five years.”
And expect him to tweet about it in the meantime.