Back on course after accident, DiGirolamo looks to give back

By Al TaysNovember 18, 2012, 1:24 pm

Life was good for Greg DiGirolamo on May 22, 2007 – a sun-splashed day on the water off Pensacola, a boat full of friends and plenty of liquid refreshments. It was a day made for partying, but once it was over, he had plans to get serious. It was time to find out once and for all whether he could make a living playing golf. He had all the physical requirements: A natural athlete, he could drive the ball 300 yards and his short game was decent. Only a combustible, club-throwing temper stood in his way, but he was getting better at controlling that. And he had taken a lower-paying job that afforded him more time to work on his game. 

But now nature was calling, and he dove into what he thought was 10 feet of water.

Greg DiGirolamoWhen Greg's parents, Michael and Marie DiGirolamo, showed up at the hospital, Greg's prognosis was not good. One doctor told them their son would never move again. They refused to believe it, refused to pass that medical opinion along to their son.

'We're a pretty faith-based family, and that's what we clung to, especially in the beginning,' said Michael DiGirolamo, a retired Navy veteran and as avid a golfer as you'll find. 'There really isn't much else you can do when the doctors tell you your son is done, he'll never move anything below his neck again.'

Greg was thinking the worst anyway, telling his father it looked like his luck had run out. 'I said, 'Nothing's been determined yet,'' Michael said. ''Nobody knows. What you need to do is start praying, and you need to get right with your heart.''

This wasn't the first time Greg had hit his head on the ocean bottom. It was a frequent hazard for anyone who surfed in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, as Greg loved to do. He was a thrill-seeker, willing to take the risks to get the adrenaline rush. This hit was definitely harder than most he had experienced, but he managed to climb back into the boat and sat down. Thinking he merely had a bad 'stinger,' he gingerly tested how far he could move his neck.

That's when he collapsed onto the deck.

'Once I moved my neck, that was it – instantaneous paralysis,' he said.

While someone called 911 and DiGirolamo's girlfriend held his head to keep it steady, the boat took him to a nearby resort, from where he was airlifted to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola.

To prevent him from moving and possibly causing further damage, he was placed in a medicated coma. He was unconscious for his 22nd birthday. 'When I woke up I had nothing,' he said. 'No sensation below my neck.'

He would eventually spend five weeks in the intensive-care unit, but he was slowly regaining feeling. He was transferred to West Florida Rehabilitation Center, where he spent two more months re-learning the simplest tasks, starting with sitting up.

As he improved, thoughts of golf began creeping back into his mind. Being able to stand up and take a few halting steps marked the turning point. He was ready to try to play again, whatever 'play' now meant.

A couple of months before the accident he had gotten a brand-new Titleist driver. 'I was so stoked about it.' The club had gone untouched for months, but now it was time to renew acquaintances. He asked his father to bring it to him. 'I put it in my hands,' he said, 'and the flashback of having a golf club in my hands ... it was just like second nature for me.'

Having moved back in with his parents, Greg began taking a club out to their acre-plus back yard and hitting balls, just as he had done as a child. With little sense of balance left, he would sometimes fall down, but he kept getting back up.

As he slowly got better, he contracted the universal golfing disease – raised expectations. His temper, long dormant, began to reawaken. 'It's not like I could break anything, though,' he joked. 'I'm not strong enough.'

He enrolled in the Golf Academy of America's facility in Apopka, Fla., something he had planned to do even before the accident. The next step was returning to the course. With his tee-shot distance reduced to about 170 yards, he shot 110 in his first round.

'I've tried to play 6,000 yards,' he said, 'but I'm taking driver/3-wood to every par 4. It's not fun.'

So he put ego aside and moved up to the forward tees, now playing courses in the 4,900- to 5,300-yard range. His best score is an 81, a number that gave him a bigger thrill than shooting in the low 70s used to.

His father had worked as a golf course superintendent after he retired from the Navy, giving Greg the opportunity to spend up to 10 hours a day in the summer practicing and playing. They had played many times before, but their first post-accident round together was unforgettable. 'I cried,' Michael said. 'It was something I didn't think I'd be able to do with him ever again.'

Stamina has been one of Greg's major challenges. Even the relatively small amount of walking he has to do from a handicap-flag-equipped cart to tees and greens quickly exhausts him.

'If you saw the exertion it takes for him to hit a single shot, you'd be like, 'How does he do it?'' said Ron Jones, an instructor at Golf Academy of America.

Greg sees the world differently now, realizing how many things he used to take for granted.

'I got a lot of help from a lot of people,' he said. 'I never realized what a nurse actually does' until he was hospitalized. 'All my therapists, I'm very close with still.''

He also takes full responsibility for the cause of his accident.

'I'd just been drinking way too much, and that was my downfall prior to hurting myself,' he said. 'Being 22, (you think) you're bulletproof.

'That's one thing I've learned over time is moderation. I don't drink like that anymore.'

He'd like to forge a career in the golf industry. 'It's time to get going with life again,' he said. 'You can't do therapy for the rest of your life.'

He thinks he'd be a good instructor, for the able-bodied as well as the disabled.

'You don't see a lot of disabled people in the golf industry. My goal is to show even people who aren't disabled, that are normal, who think the game is so difficult, that if I can hit a golf ball . . .

'My goal is just to give back. I've been given so much from so many people.'

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry