HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, Va. -- Hampden-Sydney College junior Bruce Shober/Appomattox never expected to be in the position he is in as the Tigers enter the 2019 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Men's Golf Championships April 28-30 on the Champions Course at Bryan Park in Browns Summit, North Carolina. The innocuously nonchalant third-year standout leads the 14th-ranked Tigers with his impressive 73.40 scoring average that ranks fourth in the ODAC and 41st in NCAA Division III.
Less than five months ago, a medical doctor informed him that he would not play golf for six months to a year, let alone do so with the success that he has been able to achieve this spring. Last October 30, Bruce was involved in an automobile accident while driving back to campus after playing a round of golf at his home course, Falling River Country Club, in Appomattox. It was getting dark outside with a little rain and when he rounded a curve on Five Forks Road, a deer was standing in the middle of the road, resulting in Shober hitting a mailbox and an embankment while avoiding the deer.
Initially diagnosed with muscle spasms in his back, Bruce was prescribed pain medication; however, after a few days of continued discomfort, he went to the Emergency Room. X-rays showed that Shober had a compression fracture of his L3 vertebra (the middle of the five lumbar vertebrae in the lower back portion of the spinal column). Not only could he not play golf, he would have to wear a back brace for at least six months.
"I told the doctor 'no'," said Bruce, when informed that he could not play golf any time soon. "I was going to do whatever I had to, to get back out there. I'm pretty tough. I didn't think it would take a year, but just hearing that from the doctor was depressing.
"I wore the brace for about four months and felt better, and I went back for more x-rays. They said it wasn't going to get any better than what it was (at the time). The bone that fractured is compressed completely now and will be like that forever."
Bruce was determined to play this spring and not miss any tournaments. After all, he had posted an even more impressive 72.00 scoring average during the fall while leading H-SC in three of four tournaments with two Top 10 individual finishes among four Top 20 efforts overall. He began hitting some small shots in his backyard in March and worked his way up from there … a lot of short game and putting drills.
"I played the first three tournaments with the back brace on," said Shober. "It was very noticeable. I had to change my swing when wearing the brace, but now that I'm out of it, I'm working on getting back to my old swing. I've been out of the brace for about a month. My back doesn't hurt, but it gets tired a lot, having not used those muscles for so long."
Incredibly, Shober led the Tigers in their first event this spring, posting rounds of 71 and 75 to place in a tie for seventh among 90 golfers at The Club at Savannah Harbor Classic March 4-5 in Georgia. His two-over par 146 came just days after picking up the clubs for the first time in four months. The following week, he finished at six-over 222 for 54 holes (11th of 105) at the TaylorMade-adidas Intercollegiate March 11-12 in South Carolina. Playing his third event in three weeks, all while wearing the back brace, finally caught up with Bruce somewhat as he posted a 54-hole score of 232 at the Jekyll Island Collegiate Invitational March 15-17 in Georgia.
"I wanted to get out there as soon as I could," said Bruce. "I love this team, it's by far the best one I have been on and I've never been this close with any group of guys since I've been here."
Some time away from tournament competition, along with removal of the brace, has been to his liking. Shober finished at just four-over par 220, tying for 21st among 74 golfers at the 48th Camp Lejeune Gold Championship on April 5-7 in North Carolina. Add three more weeks of practice and preparation, not to mention more strengthening of his back, and Bruce is very optimistic ahead of the upcoming conference tournament.
"Physically, I'd say I'm there, that's not the issue," explained Shober. "Getting back to the swing and seeing the good shots that I am used to hitting. It's just fine-tuning and that's what I've really been working on. I'd love to have the team finish first and I'll take either first through fifth, as long as the other guys finish ahead of me."
The perpetually humble team captain is quick to point out that the success of H-SC golf this year is a total team effort. The Tigers remain ranked 14th in the latest Division III Bushnell Golfweek Coaches Poll and the Golfstat Division III Top 25, while also sixth in the Southeast Region rankings used to determine which teams qualify for the 2019 Division III Men's Golf Championships on May 14-17 at the Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Kentucky. H-SC averages 294.10 per round, 12th-best in Division III and fifth-best in the region. In addition to Shober, three other Tigers are ranked very highly among the Golfstat national and regional individual rankings.
"It should be noted that any of these other four guys can take my spot in a heartbeat," added Bruce. "It's not me doing this … it's definitely a team effort here."
Inspiring words from a young man who has only been playing the game for about seven years, after an uncle got him a starter set for Christmas one year, and has basically self-taught himself through hard work and determination. Oh, and not to mention that he was involved in a potentially career-ending auto accident less than five months ago.