Michigan golf coach returns to professional play after potentially career-ending injury

A again damage could have compelled AJ Newell to retire from skilled golf in 2020, however she hasn’t misplaced her aggressive spirit.

The 29-year-old, who has simply accomplished her first season as an assistant coach for the Michigan girls’s golf staff, will play her first skilled match in additional than two years when she performs at Travis Level Nation Membership from June 16-18. EPSON Tour’s Ann Arbor’s Highway to LPGA backed by A2 Sports activities Fee.

“I miss the competitors,” Newell stated after going into apply final week. “It is a very pleasing feeling for me. That is what I stay up for probably the most within the match, these tensions that I am experiencing for the primary staff once more.”

This Florida-born is grateful for the chance to return to skilled golf within the metropolis she now calls residence, particularly as a result of she did not know if she would play competitively once more after her second again surgical procedure within the fall of 2020.

Newell had a staff function in Tennessee from 2011 to 2015 earlier than turning skilled. She earned a spot on the Epson Tour, the event circuit for the LPGA Tour previously referred to as the Symetra Tour, from 2016-20, and in addition performed on the LPGA Tour in 2018.

I’ve all the time fantasized a few lengthy profession in sports activities, however power again ache spoiled these plans. Her first surgical procedure got here when she was younger in Tennessee, however she was capable of handle the ache with bodily remedy and again injections in her first a number of years on the tour.

Newell performed one occasion in 2020 earlier than COVID-19 paused the tour schedule. The lockdown gave her extra time to coach and work on her sport, however it worsened her damage. As soon as she began shedding sensation in her proper leg and could not transfer her toes resulting from nerve harm, she stated she knew the ache could not be cured with bodily remedy or injections this time.

Within the fall of 2020, Newell underwent an anterior lumbar fusion – a surgical procedure carried out from the stomach to deal with disc issues within the decrease again. She was not allowed to decide on a membership for six months.

“For the primary 12 weeks, I could not bend or twist in any respect,” she stated. “It’s a must to keep totally erect whereas the bone begins to coalesce, so I had just a little factor maintain the claw and needed to choose every little thing up with it. I slept on the couch for six weeks. You may’t roll over on the mattress or something.”

Throughout an extended and grueling restoration, Newell, who had had 13 cuts and three occasions within the prime 10 in 35 Symetra skilled occasions, did not know if she would play one other skilled occasion, and was happy with it. She started educating youngsters at her homestead close to Tampa, Florida earlier than accepting her first teaching job in Michigan final season (extra on that later).

Coaching alongside head coach Jan Dowling and serving to the Wolverines win their first Large Ten Championships and take the highest 20 on the NCAA Championships in Scottsdale, Arizona reignited Newell’s aggressive hearth.

“What I really like most about coaching is that it offers me a method to assist folks,” she stated. “I really feel like with my again surgical procedures, I could not play as a lot as I needed to, so I needed to practice smarter. I’ve actually discovered a variety of methods to get probably the most out of golf by technique, course administration and tips on how to practice effectively and successfully. I really feel like coaching, I may help them study what it took me years to study. However I additionally keep aggressive by watching them play and compete as a staff.”

Newell nonetheless certified to compete within the occasions on tour, and with a championship in her yard, she seized the chance. Newell stated her sport hasn’t gone again to what it was earlier than the surgical procedure, however simply being a part of a 150-player subject already looks like a victory.

“I am principally crammed with a variety of gratitude, as a result of there have been some occasions all this time the place I wasn’t positive if I might ever play golf once more,” she stated. “The truth that I not solely play golf and am capable of do it for enjoyable, however I nonetheless maintain my place and do it.

“This may be my final. I’d attempt to play once more later within the yr, however it’s type of like my final time, and it is like I am closing the category, however I am doing it by myself phrases, whereas earlier than that I felt like I used to be simply being omitted. “

Few are excited to look at Newell compete as Dowling, who was an assistant coach at Tennessee State throughout her sophomore season. Dowling stated it was clear early on that Newell was within the temper to be a coach if she selected to.

“I have been coaching lengthy sufficient that sure gamers stand out for their very own distinctive causes, however it was excellent as a result of they have been so collaborative, which normally meant they have been passionate concerning the sport and needed to enhance and get higher,” he informed MLive. “However maybe greater than that, she was very considerate in how she approached the sport, and her possession of the sport.” When she opened a job on the Dowling employees final summer time, she texted her ex-player on Fb to charge her curiosity within the job.

Fortunately for Newell, she simply re-downloaded Fb to her cellphone that morning, and Dowling’s message piqued her curiosity. Nonetheless, Newell and her fiancé Dan Lavigne simply purchased a house in Florida, and have been completely happy to reside near the household. However Lavigne, a firefighter who will carry a bag for Newell at this month’s occasion at TPCC, inspired her to proceed her teaching profession.

Newell likes it. Not solely did she uncover her ardour for teaching, however her function additionally expanded to about 4 occasions whereas Dowling was on maternity go away.

“After I got here in within the fall, I used to be like, ‘That is what I need to do. That is a lot enjoyable. “I am thrilled with the chance,” Newell stated. “After I spent these few months within the function it helped my targets turn out to be extra clear. That’s what I need to do. I’ve liked coaching alongside Jan and I’m actually dedicated to constructing an amazing program right here.”

Dowling stated Newell was an integral a part of Michigan’s success final season. Even when that is Newell’s final skilled occasion, Dowling believes the expertise will solely enrich her teaching profession.

“I feel her taking part in expertise was an enormous a part of it,” Dowling stated of Newell’s impression on the staff. “She’s an amazing expectant, so she will type of put herself within the gamers’ sneakers. She’s younger and she will relate to our gamers very well due to her taking part in expertise.

“This may solely assist AJ in her teaching profession as a result of the additional away you’re from taking part in aggressive match golf, the extra keen you’re to overlook how arduous it was. You by no means need to overlook the way it feels when taking part in aggressive golf. Nothing like taking part in with your folks on a Friday or Saturday “.

Newell would not be the one wolverine within the subject both. Senior Ashley Lau, this system’s first U.S. senior staff member, obtained an exemption from the sponsor to compete within the occasion. The match week begins with apply rounds on June 13 and 14 earlier than the competitors kicks off on June 15. The competitors might be from June 16 to eight, and entry for followers is free.

“We’re very excited,” Newell stated. “It might be an amazing alternative for her. If anybody’s sport is able to compete on an expert degree, it is positively Ashley. She’s an amazing participant and an amazing lady. She’s a lot enjoyable to work with on the golf course. It would be enjoyable to compete together with her.”