Jason Kokrak is back in the swing of things.
The John F. Kennedy and Xavier University graduate will tee up for the first time since May at this week’s PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky.
Kokrak tees off Thursday at 9:10 a.m. on hole No. 1 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville with Stephen Gallacher of Scotland and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain.
The JFK graduate and two-time Division III state medalist last played a tour event at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass May 8-11.
It took a couple of weeks to figure out why Kokrak hasn’t played since then, when he was slated to play in the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He had surgery for a hernia, which has kept him out until now.
“It’s just one of those things where you have to tell your body what’s happening,” Kokrak said. “I’ve never had surgery where they’ve cut me open – having the mesh put in and sutchering the wall shut. It put a damper on everything.
“I’m not back to 100 percent by any means. I’m 80 percent healthy. I feel good. It’s nice to be back out on the course, playing fantastic courses every week.”
He said he didn’t want to rush back after the surgery as there was no need to hurry into to action.
Kokrak, who is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, wanted to be back for the PGA Championship, but knew he had a couple of weeks of wiggle room prior to the postseason.
Currently, Kokrak is 76th in the FedEx Cup Standings with 632 points and has earned $1,071.033.
Kokrak has two top-10 finishes this season, including fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club in March. He finished in the top 25 in nine of the 16 tournaments in which he competed.
And, he’s got a spot on the PGA Tour in 2015.
He needed to tend to his hernia, which was diagnosed as an umbilical hernia.
“My doctor said eventually it’s going to get worse and worse and you could have intestines coming through that muscle and fatty tissue walls in your stomach,” Kokrak said. “I figured it was a good time and I didn’t want to put myself behind the 8-ball – having surgery after the Tour Championship and missing all of the fall series and possibly some of the ones in the new year.”
The Tour Championship is Sept. 11-14 in Atlanta.
After this weekend, Kokrak is taking off next weekend at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. He’s planning to play the following two weekends in The Barclays (Paramus, N.J.) and Deutsche Bank Championship (Norton, Mass.).
“It’s going to take a good effort to get inside the top 30, to play the Tour Championship,” Kokrak said.
Right now, he’s looking to get back to his normal self on the course – the one that has been a pro since 2008. This has been his best year on tour.
He’s always been solid off the tee, ranking eighth on tour with 304.7-yard average.
“I don’t have the range of motion or the flexibility back in my swing yet, so I’m not swinging as full as I did before the surgery,” Kokrak said. “I think in time, within a couple of months, I’d be back to 100 percent swinging – hitting it far again.”
He had a while after the surgery to be able to swing the long ball. He’s been playing the last three weeks in Charlotte.
“After the surgery, the doctor said absolutely no drivers for at least eight weeks,” Kokrak said. “He said don’t take any chances or anything like that. I got to the point where I was feeling pretty good. I still feel it. I swing with no pain. I don’t have any issues there.
“But the other day, reaching out of the car to the ATM, putting my card in, I had a sharp pain. It’s just a different motion I’m not used to having a foreign object in my body.”
With that range of motion, he tried to hone on his short game.
“I have been working on it,” Kokrak said. “I’ve always been an athletic golfer. I’m not mechanical with my golf swing. I’ve always been able to hit the ball pretty flush. That has come back pretty good in the last week or so.
“The short game, in competition, is those shots under pressure that come with repetition. You get out there, play under pressure and if you can recall one certain shot and certain feelings that will help you out. I think getting out there under the pressure will definitely help me out going into the playoffs. I’ve been working hard the last couple of days last week or so on the short game – just trying to get the all-around game back together.”
Whatever happens at the PGA Championship, one can bet Kokrak will have his family and friends from Xavier – about an hour and a half away from Louisville – there to cheer for him.
“I think I’m going to have a nice following this week,” he said. “It’s not too far outside of Ohio. I think people are starting to follow me a little bit more. It should be a nice week. I have no expectations for this week. I’m going to try to go out there, try to play golf and react to the shots – how I used to do it.
“Coming off an injury or coming off surgery, something like this, it’s hard to have expectations because you haven’t been playing competitive golf in however long.”