IRVING, Texas -- Last weekend wasn't an illusion. That actually was Paul Stankowski, getting a lot of TV face time during the Valero Texas Open.
And there he was again Tuesday afternoon, laughing with Lee Janzen after their practice round at the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas. Seldom seen and largely forgotten in recent years, Stankowski is resurrecting his golf career at 40.
Sunday's tie for 22nd in San Antonio and a tie for 12th in Puerto Rico in March constitute breakthroughs for a player whose career was decimated by injuries. For most golf fans, Stankowski's two PGA Tour wins by age 28 are hazy history.
"Some people thought I'd retired," he said. "They were like, 'What happened? Where've you been?'
"I've been floundering."
What happened was torn left wrist cartilage in 2002, leading to surgeries in 2003 and 2004. What happened was a torn left ring finger tendon in 2005, left shoulder surgery that year and right shoulder surgery in 2007.
If you heard of Stankowski doing anything golf-related in recent years, it probably was the analyst work he did for the Golf Channel and satellite radio in 2005. Or his frequent pop-ins on local radio.
Some called it moonlighting, but in a sense it was his most steady work. From a practical standpoint, he was preparing for life as a non-professional golfer while earning no PGA Tour income in 2005 and finishing 171st, 178th, 210th and 206th on the money list since then.
"I was trying to do things when I was hurt because I didn't know how much time I had left," he said. "I still don't."
He finally feels healthy. He credits his uptick in play to a new swing coach and a return to Callaway equipment. He'd worked with Mike Wilson since 1991, but needing to "shake things up," he turned to Mike Abbott.
Abbott, the director of golf at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was a fixture at the Four Seasons and Vaquero. Abbott has worked to re-create the width Stankowski had in his swing as a UTEP All-American and a long-hitter who finished 21st on the 1997 PGA Tour money list.
With limited exempt status, he got into the HP Byron Nelson Championship field on Monday as an alternate. He said the news made him "giddy."
"It's fun being in the mix," he said. "It's fun to get the blood pressure to pop and the nerves going a little bit. It's been a great process. I feel like we're just starting to climb out.
"I'm hoping there's more good golf ahead of me. I think I can win again out here."
He won the 1996 BellSouth Classic and 1997 Hawaiian Open. He and wife Regina had Joshua in 1999 and Katelyn in 2002.
"I look back on those injuries, and I'm so thankful for that time because I would never have taken the time out of my schedule to build into my kids," he said. "I would have seen them 22 weeks a year. Being hurt, I got to see them a lot more."
But, healthy again at 40, there's one more thing he wants the Stankowski family to share.
"I hope I get to win and my little kids can run out onto the green. I love that Sunday scene when Momma and kiddos come out to hug Daddy. I'd love to be able to partake in that."