Jeff Overton’s Official World Golf Ranking profile has been inactive for so long, it contains a glaring error:
WORLD NUMBER -2147483648
Clearly, Overton isn’t negatively ranked; he’s actually unranked. The 39-year-old former Ryder Cupper hasn’t logged a world-ranked start since February 2017 when he missed the cut at the Honda Classic. After that start, he underwent back surgery, which led to the scariest moment of his career, a spinal infection that jeopardized not only his life but his golf future.
More than five years later, though, Overton has overcome the odds and returned to the PGA Tour. He will make his return at this week’s 3M Open on a sponsor exemption.
“It's very emotional. It's been an extremely difficult journey the last five-and-a-half years,” Overton told Golf Channel's Kira K. Dixon on Wednesday from TPC Twin Cities.
A talented amateur from Evansville, Indiana, who played on the 2005 U.S. Walker Cup team, Overton made history in 2010 when he joined Rickie Fowler as the first American players to make a Ryder Cup team without owning a PGA Tour victory (“Boom, baby!”). That season Overton notched five top-3 finishes, including three runner-up showings, and cracked the top-50 in the world rankings for the first time.
But Overton has still yet to break through for that elusive first Tour title. While dealing with an ailing back, Overton lost his card after the 2016 season. The next spring he opted for surgery to repair a herniated disc, a minimally invasive procedure that led to a life-threatening spinal infection and emergency surgery.
“After a month in the hospital and acute rehab center, many nights of excruciating pain and uncertainty, two months of IV antibiotics and home health care, we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” wrote Overton’s wife, Christina, after the harrowing ordeal in May 2017.
Added Overton: "It got into my vertebrae and caused a whole lotta havoc."
Overton said he didn’t touch a golf club for more than two years after being released from the hospital, and it wasn’t until about six months ago that he started swinging his driver. From there, he slowly built back up his game and stamina.
“About six, eight weeks ago I was able to walk 72 holes at Valhalla and figured when I got around pretty close to par for four days on a very good golf course, I was like, you know what, I think I'm going to try and play some golf this year,” said Overton, who played a Monday qualifier for the John Deere Classic a few weeks ago.
Overton’s world-ranked comeback was supposed to come at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Championship, also being contested this week in Springfield, Missouri. But those plans changed last Sunday as Overton and his family – he has two young daughters – were about to board a flight from Florida to Missouri.
His cellphone rang, and on the other line was Hollis Cavner, the 3M’s tournament director, who wanted to extend Overton an exemption. Cavner had heard Overton had been working hard on his game and figured why not give the veteran with more than 30 worldwide top-10s and over 200 cuts made a chance to test himself again at the highest level.
“I'm happy to help a guy,” Cavner told the Star Tribune. “We always like to go to the young guys and help them. To get a guy who has been that good on tour and had an injury, it'd be great to see him come back. It won't be lightning in a bottle because he hasn't had a scorecard and a pencil in his hand in a long time, but I hope he can start playing good again.”
Upon hearing the news, Overton pulled his bags off the carousel, re-booked his flight, arrived in Minneapolis at 2 a.m. Monday.
Now, he's set for his long-awaited PGA Tour return.
"It's hard to exactly describe whenever you've experienced so much pain and whenever you've really just haven't been able to do what you feel like you want to do," Overton said, "but you know, I'm back out here getting to do what I want to do."