Pepper 'feels like a rookie' after missing four months

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Returning to the LPGA Tour for
the first time this year has made Dottie Pepper feel like a rookie

Not only has there been some anxiety coming back from surgery on
her left shoulder, but just getting to the ShopRite Classic on the
Bay Course at the Marriott Seaview Resort for Friday's opening
round was a new experience for the 36-year-old.

"Obviously it feels strange to be back and one of the strangest
things is just packing from scratch again,'' Pepper said.

Since joining the LPGA Tour in 1988, Pepper admittedly has had
her golf bag and luggage always half packed, ready to hit the road.

All that changed after she had two surgical procedures performed
on March 1. It left the fiery Pepper with her left arm in a sling
and little to do.

Getting to this point has not been easy for the winner of 17
LPGA events, including two majors.

It wasn't until mid-April that Pepper was allowed to putt. She
didn't start chipping until 10 days after that and her first swing
didn't happen until late May.

Pepper refused to say how she hurt her shoulder other than to
say it happened last year. She initially treated it with cortisone
injections, but the pain eventually began to feel like a torch and
she shut down her game for 10 weeks.

Pepper, who has always pointed to next week's U.S. Women's Open
as the event she wanted to play, said she probably could have
returned to the tour two or three weeks ago.

"But I would have struggled through it and that is not me,''
Pepper said. "That is not the way I wanted to come back out. That
is not me to come out there and find my way around the golf

Pepper doesn't seem to be doing that this week. During the
pro-am on Wednesday, her game didn't show the effects of missing
the first half of the year.

"I am probably completely up to speed,'' she said. "My drive
is about 2 or 3 yards longer and then my irons are not quite where
I would like them to be, but overall no complaints. My short game
is pretty darn good right now since that was all I had to do for
most of the recovery time.''

Pepper, who had 11 top 10 finishes last year, also is happy with
the setup of the course this week.

Trying to draw a better field, tournament officials let the
rough grow and speeded up the greens to give players a feel for a
U.S. Open course.

"The rough is similar in spots to a major championship course
in some spots,'' said Pepper, who won this event in 1996. "It will
be premium ball striking and then the greens are small so that
means ball striking management.

"Good ball striking is what usually wins here and right now my
shoulder feels good I am hitting the ball well and one usually
leads to another,'' she added.

Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster and defending champion and
three-time winner Betsy King headline the field in this 54-hole