Charlie Danielson stared at it when he woke up every morning. Written on a note, hanging from his mirror, was one of his primary goals this year: qualify for the U.S. Open.
He did that in May through a sectional qualifier. He’ll tee it up in the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday at Pebble Beach in California. Mission accomplished.
“I see (that note) every day,” Danielson said. “So for me to kind of check that one off the list, it definitely feels really good.”
Particularly after everything he has endured the last year.
It was December 2017 when Danielson started to feel pain in his knee — again. It was a feeling he was familiar with. A kid growing up just across the river from the Twin Cities area in Osceola, Wis., Danielson underwent two knee surgeries in middle school to repair holes in his cartilage that led to bone-on-bone contact. The fix back then was to drill into the knee, causing it to bleed. The blood scabbed over, creating new cartilage. That was a short-term fix, so Danielson knew the problem would likely return.
When it did, he tried many different solutions. From shots to rehab, nothing worked. So he went back to the same surgeon who worked on his knee years ago, William Pennington, and underwent another surgery last July. But this surgery was different. Pennington used Cartiform, essentially artificial cartilage, to repair the meniscus.
The surgery requires about a full year for recovery, sidelining Danielson and stunting the momentum he had rolling in his golf career.
“It was pretty tough to take in, because that just meant more time sitting out, and I need my body to be healthy to be able to continue to make a living and do what I love,” Danielson said. “It was tough to take that in.”
Danielson couldn’t do much in the way of moving for the first two to three months. He was reliant on his family for food and, just as importantly, support. His support system, he said, helped him throughout the “tough times.”
Along the way, Danielson experienced a few doubts. Would the surgery allow him to get back to the level of play to which he was accustomed? Could he play golf again, period?
“You have doubts like that,” he said. “But then you go back to just having that support system, you go back to really digging deep and believe in yourself and trusting that everything happens for a reason.”
Danielson buried himself in his rehab. The Illinois alum and 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year has always prided himself in his work ethic. That wasn’t going to stop now.
“I put probably more time than I needed to, or even more time than I should’ve, into the rehab process,” Danielson said. “Just because I was so eager to get back and beat the timeline that my surgeon had for me.”
After a few months, he could get back on the putting green, and occasionally hang out with friends. Six months in, Danielson was hitting some soft shots. He appreciated the gradual progression, and each subtle milestone that came with it.
“I could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Knowing that if I continued to work hard, before I know it, I’d be back on the course.”
He returned to action in the PGA’s Mackenzie Tour in Canada last month. In the past three weeks, he has two top-10 finishes.
‘Definitely encouraged by the way my golf game is trending,” Danielson said.
And he estimates he’s only about 90 percent healthy, noting his club speed isn’t all the way back and difficult lies and bunker shots still give him pain from time to time.
Still, at just 25 years old, Danielson’s career appears to be right back on track.
He was quick to note most every athlete goes through an injury that causes them to miss time. The key, he noted, is to remain optimistic and look for positives. For Danielson, those might be evident in his game.
“You’ve got to look at it like hopefully it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I got to kind of reflect on my golf game while I was out, where I could get better.”
During his recovery, he noticed he was swinging easy and playing well. He even picked up a few different shots along the way.
Danielson hopes to achieve full-time status on the Web.com Tour for the 2020 season. But first, he’s got a US Open to play.
This will be his second appearance in the national championship. The first came in 2016, when Danielson was still an amateur. That was just his second start on the PGA Tour. He missed the cut that weekend. But the Charlie Danielson teeing off Thursday is far different than the guy who competed three years earlier.
“I look back, two or three years ago, and even though I just sat out the last year, I think I’m a better player,” Danielson said. “I think I’m a smarter player, and so I’ll definitely kind of lean on those past experiences, good and bad, and hopefully have a good week.”
Regardless, Danielson is already a winner.
“I’m just excited to be back on the course,” he said. “It’s pretty special, especially that it happened this quick.”