Charlie Danielson is fighting to save his career.
The Osceola native and former four-time All-American at the University of Illinois is doing everything in his power to get back on track, to pick up where he left off this summer, when he played with Phil Mickelson on the weekend of the U.S. Open, had a chance to win the Barracuda Open on a sponsor’s exemption and qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour finals with a PGA Tour card on the line.
It’s not a swing change that set him back, or a balky putter.
It’s his left knee.
Danielson missed the entire 2018 season while recovering from knee surgery, in which Dr. William Pennington of the Orthopedic Institute of Wisconsin performed ligament reconstruction to repair two holes in his meniscus. He’s had problems with the knee going all the way back to middle school, when it was twice repaired surgically.
Late this summer, the pain flared up again. He’d qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour finals by finishing 14th in PGA Tour non-member earnings ($223,748 in just four starts), but had to withdraw from two of the three events, including the Korn Ferry Tour Championship after an opening 78.
Talk about bad timing. Danielson, 25, was on the verge of potentially playing his way onto the PGA Tour and now he’s back to square one.
“My morale is OK,” he said in a telephone interview with Wisconsin.golf. “I haven’t been 100 percent in over two years now and obviously that’s taking a toll on me. I was able to play a great summer of golf and I still wasn’t 100 percent but I at least could make some swings and kind of chip it around.
“Right when I had the best opportunity to get my PGA Tour card, unfortunately, my knee problems came back. I’m just trying to stay as positive and optimistic as I can and trust that there’s a reason that this is happening to me and for it to be happening at this time. I’m trying to fight through the adversity and be as positive as I can.”
The problem is, he’s running out of options. An MRI revealed that his cartilage is deteriorating and his knee is arthritic. It’s not a good situation for a 6-foot-5 golfer who generates tremendous swing speed and posts onto his left side.
Ten weeks ago, Danielson had stem cell injections in the knee and earlier this week he had a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in the hope that it will speed the recovery process. He’s undergoing physical therapy in Hudson, near his hometown, and flying to Scottsdale, Ariz., for ARP (Accelerated Recovery Performance) Wave neuro therapy to “wake up” the muscles surrounding the knee.
In essence, it’s a last-ditch effort to eliminate or at least minimize the pain and gain enough function in his knee so that he can play golf at the highest level. So far, Danielson hasn’t noticed much difference, but stem cell therapy can take months before a patient feels significantly better.
“They expect me to at least be feeling some sort of relief in the next four weeks, which would kind of put me at the 3½-month mark after the stem cell,” Danielson said. “If I could get out and start hitting balls by January 1st that would be amazing.
"It’s kind of just up to my knee. It’s a waiting game right now. I just have to trust this whole process and trust that I’m going to continue to get better, or there’s going to be a solution.”
Even at less than 100 percent, Danielson had a terrific summer. He made the cut with two shots to spare at the U.S. Open and was paired with Mickelson in the third round at Pebble Beach. He tied for 15th in the 3M Open in Blaine, Minn., just an hour from Osceola. And in July, in the Barracuda Championship, which uses the modified Stableford scoring system, he was in contention on Sunday until bogeys on Nos. 16 and 18 dropped him into a tie for seventh.
Because he finished inside the top 200 in PGA Tour earnings as a non-member, he has status on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020. The tour kicks off with two tournaments in the Bahamas in January, then goes to Panama and Colombia. The first domestic event is the LECOM Suncoast Classic, Feb. 13-16 in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
At this point, Danielson has no idea when he’ll be ready to compete.
“I wish I could say I’m going to be 100 percent within the next few months,” he said. “But I’ve been hoping that for the past two years. I’ve continued to seek all my options and do my due diligence and continue to work as hard as I can to get healthy. But, unfortunately, it hasn’t come yet.
“Kind of the big picture is believing this is happening for a reason, whether that means my knee is going to get to 100 percent and I can get back out there and have a successful 2020 on the Korn Ferry Tour or whether it’s continuing to seek my options and at some point maybe look at other career paths. We’re not to that point yet. I’m going to continue to do all I can to get back on the course.”