- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

A compelling case can be made that this week’s Prince George’s County Open is hosting the hottest golfer on the planet.

Two years removed from a career-threatening spinal injury, Australia’s Michael Sim has forged the most dominating start in the history of the Nationwide Tour over the last four months.

The 24-year-old leads the PGA Tour’s junior circuit in money ($370,567), more than doubling the earnings of No. 2 Garth Mulroy ($161,027). He also leads the tour in top-10 finishes (five) and putting (28.44 a round). He ranks second in scoring average (69.00), third in driving accuracy (83.03 percent) and fourth in greens in regulation (77.43 percent).

In eight starts on the Nationwide Tour this season, the Aussie collected two victories, a playoff loss and third- and fourth-place finishes. Last week’s stumble at the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C., was his worst result (a tie for 30th) in nearly three months.

This week he comes to the Country Club of Woodmore seeking a third victory in 2009 and an immediate “battlefield promotion” to the PGA Tour.

“When I played Raleigh last week, the media did ask me a lot of questions about that third win,” said Sim, who is looking to become the ninth player to make a midseason jump to the PGA Tour since the three-victory promotion carrot was introduced on the Nationwide Tour in 1997. “When you’re so close, you almost feel like you already have it. But you’ve still got to go out and play.”

Sim was two strokes off the lead heading into the weekend in Raleigh but slumped to a 71-70 finish when he began pressing for the future instead of focusing on the present.

“I was so close on Saturday when I teed off that I just put too much pressure on myself,” Sim said. “I three-putted three times, and I haven’t done that in a long time. That was probably part of the reason. I got that notion stuck in my head, but the good thing is I now know how to deal with it.”

Last week’s lesson was virtually painless compared with what Sim endured during his first push to join the PGA Tour. Sim had been warned since age 17 that his poor posture on and off the course and lax conditioning could lead to major back problems. But those admonishments failed to resonate with Sim, who followed his ranking as the world’s top amateur in 2005 by breezing through the Nationwide Tour in 2006. In his first season as a pro, Sim finished 19th on the Nationwide Tour’s money list, earning a PGA Tour card for 2007.

But minor discomfort blossomed into a full-blown breakdown in November 2006, when Sim was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his spine.

“I had a scan in late ‘06, and I went through a period of like four months where my back [didn’t get any better],” Sim said. “I actually did think to myself: ‘Am I ever going to play golf again?’ It’s a scary thought. That’s not a good thought to have when you decided when you were about 15 years old that you were going to try to make a living out of the game. … You’ve got a PGA Tour card in your back wallet, and you see all your friends out there playing, and it was tough to even watch them play. It was definitely a tough time there at the end of ‘06.”

Though Sim made just 24 disappointing starts on the PGA Tour in 2007 and 2008, he found a way to manage his back. He tweaked his swing to minimize back stress, began a strict regimen of daily stretching and flexibility exercises and hired sports psychologist Angela Pampling to help him ease the tension in his body with on-course breathing techniques. His 2009 results speak for themselves.

“I really do feel like everything’s coming around quite well right now,” said Sim, a rail-thin spit of a fellow who easily could be mistaken for countryman Adam Scott… or his younger brother. “I have a very good physical routine that I’m sticking to every day. I’ve got to put in an hour a day, and I’ll have to continue to do it for the rest of my life.

“The slight fault in my golf swing [straightening his right knee at impact] still isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely minimized. I just feel like I’ve got the strength in my back now to maintain those positions throughout my golf swing. That’s why my ball-striking’s a lot more consistent and probably why the results have been there as well. It’s nice that I’m able to just think about the positives now rather than thinking about my back all the time.”

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