Robert Allenby depends on his hands to earn a living, so when they began to swell inexplicably during a tournament in late February, the slight Aussie grew disturbed. The inflammation was so extreme that he barely could bend his fingers, much less grip a golf club.
His first inclination was a bout of arthritis, perhaps rheumatoid. Blood tests revealed that not to be the case.
"Even to this day we still don't know what was causing it," Allenby said. "Luckily the last couple weeks, it's been warm. You know, it definitely has a little more feel in there. I find that in the morning, it's really stiff, and I can only close my hand about that much."
Allenby demonstrates by rolling his right fingers just a few degrees.
"I run it under the hot water, and then it eases off a little bit," he said. "But it's not the best thing to have being a golfer. I can think of better things."
A winner's check for $900,000 could be just the elixir, and Allenby has put himself in position to collect that big payday after his second-round 6-under 65 left him in the lead of the Booz Allen Classic at 9-under 133. Now if his hands would cooperate over the weekend.
"I haven't been hitting the ball that bad, but I just haven't been putting or chipping very well. I've had no feel, no touch around the greens at all," Allenby said. "After the U.S. Open [next week], I'm going to do an allergy test, see if I'm allergic to spicy foods, something like that, so hopefully I'll get to the bottom of it soon."
Meantime, Allenby is taking advantage of the steamy weather that has provided flexibility in his hands and allowed him to continue his confident play at Congressional Country Club. His round began with a near ace at No. 2, where he sent a 5-wood at the flag. The ball lipped out of the cup, rolled past and settled eight feet from the hole. His putter did the rest.
At the 455-yard par-4 third, Allenby sent his tee ball 313 yards down the middle of the fairway and used a 9-iron approach that landed four feet from the pin. Another one-putt green resulted in his second straight birdie and dropped him to 5 under for the tournament.
"My iron play was pretty good. I hit a lot of shots close, but I definitely made some putts when I needed to," said Allenby, who took 25 putts in his second round.
About the only misstep that befell Allenby came at No. 9, a 602-yard par 5. After driving the ball 323 yards, he went for the green with his second shot, but his 3-wood approach found trouble.
"I was pretty unlucky with the lie I got. I was sitting in some wiry grass about this long. I just couldn't get it out," Allenby, who made bogey, said of this third shot. "Just before I went to hit my 3-wood, my caddie did say, 'Oh, what about laying up?' So I hit the 3-wood, and I looked at him and gave him the club and said, 'Thank you very much. Thanks for the vote of confidence.' "
That lapse did not diminish Allenby's resolve. He went on to make three birdies on his back nine and saved par from eight and seven feet on his last two holes for the low score of the round.
"You know, you can't play well all the time. I'm afraid we're all human," Allenby said. "But you know, I've just been patient over the last few months. It's just nice to finally see some rewards coming with the patience. I'm going to stay patient over the weekend, and we'll see what happens."