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Four years after a car accident nearly ended his career, Braden Shattuck reaches the PGA

Braden Shattuck hits from the rough on the fourth hole during a practice around for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Rochester, N.Y. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Braden Shattuck can't quite explain why he was so intent on spending a not-insignificant portion of his childhood hitting 30-yard pitch shots from one side of his family's backyard in the Philadelphia suburbs to the other.

Where some might see monotony, Shattuck saw opportunity. There was something about the feel of that first plastic set of clubs in his hands. Something about the challenge of firing to an imaginary pin. Something about the game that gripped him early and never let go.

“He was obsessed with (golf)," Scott Shattuck said of his son. “We had to almost drag him inside the house.”

So yes, Shattuck always believed there was a chance he'd make it to the sport's biggest stage. Yet the 4-year-old who took delight in tearing up his parents' yard deep into the twilight couldn't have imagined the circuitous route that brought the now-28-year-old to the 2023 PGA Championship.

The 12-footer for par that Shattuck drained to win the PGA Professional Championship in New Mexico last month assured him of a spot in the strongest field of the year starting Thursday at Oak Hill.

It also served as a testament to the relentlessness of a self-professed grinder who was forced to rebuild his swing from the ground up following a car accident in 2019 that resulted in multiple herniated disks in his lower back and made even walking difficult.

The player who would spend 12 hours a day during the summer as a kid pounding ball after ball on the practice range spent the better part of two years watching the guys he competed with on the mini-tour circuit climb the ladder while he went through countless hours of physical therapy and wondered if he'd ever be able to swing something close to pain-free again.

“Physically you can’t even play golf, and mentally it’s tough because now what else do you do with your time,” Shattuck said. “It took a lot to get over that hurdle.”

So Shattuck poured himself into his work as an assistant golf pro, showing others how to fix their swings while trying to devise a way to tweak his own.

“It was more of an experiment than anything,” he said. “I knew what exactly in my golf swing hurt, so I figured if I could do something with my setup and my golf swing to take some pressure off of those areas, that even if I didn’t fully heal that maybe I could still swing a golf club with minimal pain.”

After a two-year sabbatical, his game slowly returned, though not quite the same as before. A more upright stance cost him some distance with his irons, though he has compensated by finding a few more yards with his driver. And the days of planting himself at the range for hours on end are long gone.

The pain is manageable, at least most of the time. He abandoned Korn Ferry Tour qualifying after the first round last fall when his back flared up out of nowhere. His preparation includes a series of stretching exercises and twice-weekly visits to a physical therapist, all of it tinged with just a hint of uncertainty when he wakes up in the morning.

Shattuck is confident his back and his game are in good enough shape to make the cut this weekend. Asking for anything beyond that, at least for now, is just being greedy.

While the vast majority of the 156-man field plays golf for a living, Shattuck remains primarily a teacher. The morning after he got back from his victory in New Mexico — a win that earned Shattuck $60,000, a berth into the PGA and an exemption into six events in the 2024 season — he was back at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, about 15 miles west of downtown Philadelphia.

There were slices to fix. Hooks to solve. A love for the game to impart the way his father did to him as a kid. The younger Shattuck was 14 when he beat his father for the first time, shooting a 67 from the back tees at The Golf Course at Glen Mills while the adults in the group turned to his father with eyebrows raised.

“Braden would go around (with us) and (they'd) be like, ‘Damn, this kid can play,'” Scott Shattuck said with a laugh.

Sure, his son would prefer to play with a back that doesn't require so much maintenance. Yet the unwanted sabbatical brought on by the car accident also shifted Shattuck's perspective.

“I had a little bit more of an intense outlook when I was younger,” he said. "Now I just feel a lot more fortunate to be out here. I feel like I’m playing with house money so it feels more relaxed.”

At least until he stands on the tee at 7 a.m. on Thursday as part of the first group out on the East Course, a moment that seemed so far away when he was tearing up the backyard as a kid — and even farther during his long recovery following the accident — finally at hand.

Maybe the nerves he fended off during the arduous process of getting here will make a brief appearance. He's not sure.

“That's a great question,” he said with a laugh. “I think we’re all going to find out the answer to that one at the same time.”

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