Challenged Tour: A time to heal

By Al TaysApril 22, 2013, 5:00 pm

You won't find much about golf here, just tales of human beings, some of whom happen to be golfers.

The bombings at the Boston Marathon brought unspeakable tragedy to hundreds of lives. Families and friends will have to cope with the loss of those who have died and many more will have to come to grips with the loss of limbs and other horrifying, life-changing injuries.

Regular readers of these Challenged Tour columns know that I write about golfers who have disabilities, often the loss of limbs, and how they deal with and overcome them. All these people went through, to one degree or another, what the injured Boston victims will go through – shock, depression, anger, bitterness. But they also eventually experienced acceptance, hope and productivity. And they all are dedicated to helping others who find themselves in similar, seemingly hopeless situations. With this in mind, I asked them and others to share their struggles and challenges, and most importantly, what got them through their ordeals.

These, then, are their stories, in their own words. 

Blame, faith and forgiveness

Eddie – his last name has been withheld at his request – lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. In this segment, he writes about his initial despair and desire to die, about the physical and mental pain he endured, and about the faith that eventually enabled him to forgive the man who took away his leg.

From the age of 16, road motorcycling was my passion. Nine years later, a drunk driver abruptly changed all that. At the hospital, when the surgeon told me it was necessary to amputate my left leg, I implored him to not bother saving me.

The ensuing physical pain and mental anguish in considering myself less than a whole person was excruciating at times. Those dark days seemed an eternity back then.

After being fitted with my first prosthesis, I recall the elation of taking tentative first steps without the aid of crutches. Learning to walk again presented formidable goals that I was determined to achieve: discarding crutches, then a cane; climbing and descending stairs; eventually walking with a completely normal gait. People have long been, and continue to be, incredulous upon learning that I wear a prosthesis. Even friends who know me well often comment that they forget that I am an amputee.

Driscoll donating $1k for birdies at Heritage, Zurich

I also took up golf, 19 years after my accident. Even though I never was athletically inclined growing up, I must say that I more than hold my own on the course. Golf has long been and continues to be my passion.

Career-wise, I continued in biological research until deciding to shift to outside sales of medical research products. My foremost concern was about my ability to walk all day, every day, as I was to travel frequently, covering a multistate territory. One more mountain to climb; one more goal to exceed. I excelled! Five years hence, I had been named National Salesperson of the Year for my company – for three consecutive years. I am retired now, but reflecting back, I am proud of what I overcame and achieved in my career.

Though I was able to achieve much physically, my mental struggle took far longer to overcome. For months I continued to appear in my dreams an “able-bodied” person. I believe the door to acceptance was cracked open when I began appearing in my dreams as the “new and changed” me. Forgiveness, however, took considerably longer.

I attended high school with all four men in the car involved in the accident; one was my first cousin. I never received acknowledgment of sorrow or blame from the driver or his family (though I even worked with his mother during my college years). During the trial (which I won), she even exclaimed from the gallery at one point, 'What is he complaining about? He has his knee.' Can you imagine how hurtful that was? And it wasn’t just them who aligned against me – there was a faction of people from my hometown who considered me to be the offender, not the victim. All of this fomented a deep anger and bitterness in me.

It wasn’t until years later, after I became a born-again Christian at the age of 42, that I was able to let go of my ill feelings. I realized that anger and bitterness only destroy one's self, and do not a bit of harm to those at whom they are directed. Jesus' words, 'And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive your sins.' (Mark 11:25) impacted my being.  If Jesus could forgive those who crucified Him upon the cross, I knew in my faith that I could readily forgive the person responsible for my loss. I forgave, first in my heart, then in person during a visit to my hometown.

What liberating joy I experienced in that moment! 

A mother overcomes her anguish

Injury victims aren't the only ones who suffer. Their loved ones do, too, and sometimes their anguish is even worse than that of the victims. Eddie's mother, Alice – her last name has also been withheld – writes about the pain a mother endures when she has to watch her child suffer and know he might die. Like Eddie, she credits her faith for getting her through the ordeal, and says her prayer for a miracle for her son was instantly answered. She also writes about her decision to change her life as a thank-you for that answered prayer.  

When you are a mother, you go through every emotion known to man. Three years after the oldest of my five children graduated from college, he was run over by a drunk driver in a car while driving his Harley-Davidson. It was a group of guys his age who had been drinking heavily and were racing to yet another bar. They didn’t even turn their lights on during the late hour. My son was driving 37 mph in a 45-mph zone when they collided, or else he would have died instantly. 

The next day in the hospital after a surgery that took almost seven hours, I looked at my son and felt as if my heart was being ripped out of my chest. Eddie was healing very well when the surgeon came and told me he was worried that Eddie would develop gas gangrene and require further amputation.

This is when my faith in God took over. I was in my car, crying and praying. I asked for a miracle that somehow this would all go away. I happened to look at the clock in the car and it said 9 a.m. In the hospital, at exactly that time, a miracle did take place. My son got up, forgetting he was now missing a limb, and fell directly on his residual limb. The surgeon said, “Eddie did a better job than I could have done. There is no longer any need to operate and drain the fluid build-up.”

I thanked the surgeon for the wonderful way he helped my son and he told me he really didn’t save Eddie’s life, that the real credit belonged to an EMT who happened to come on the scene immediately after the accident and applied a tourniquet. The surgeon stated that Eddie would have bled out in seven minutes without this medical aid.

This impressed me so much that I decided to become an EMT. This was my chance to give back for my son’s life being saved. I was an EMT for several years and I saved the lives of three people, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

Eddie's medical ordeal was extremely hard on me. In the beginning I cried night and day. I was remarried so my husband was not Eddie’s birth father. The second night I cried my husband asked if I was going to cry every night. I went to see a doctor and told him I needed some nerve pills, but he wouldn't prescribe them. I attended a Tupperware party and they served wine, which calmed me down. The next thing I knew I was drinking wine at 10 in the morning so I wouldn’t be a nervous wreck all day.

One day, however, I sat across the room from my husband and cried like a baby. I told him I had nobody to comfort me during such a rough time. He got out of his chair and came over and held me and told me to cry as long as I had to. This was the start of the healing process for me and the end of the worst days.

One final thing about being a mother. I was so proud of my son when he was able to shake the hand of the boy who was driving drunk that night. 

A wounded soldier becomes 'a better person' 

Joe Hartley lost his left arm as a result of a Scud missile attack in Saudi Arabia while serving with the Army during Operation Desert Storm. He also suffered damage to his right arm and hand. He writes about going from thinking his life was 'finished in just about every aspect' to realizing that the incident helped him become “a better person.”

I went through stages. The first few days and weeks were devastating in that I thought my life was finished in just about every aspect. How was I going to work? Or drive? How would I be able to hold my daughter? It was tough to accept and I did not want family or friends visiting, as it just brought those feelings out more.

The next stage was determination in every little goal that I or the physical or occupational therapist had for me. From dressing myself to brushing my teeth, everything was an obstacle that I had to overcome. It drove me, and that's a trait that I believe is important in victims of serious accidents. Without that determination, they quit on everything, on themselves, their families and their loved ones. I had times I wanted to quit and I got very depressed and isolated myself. This is where my family and friends helped me the most, by getting me out and enjoying life again. 

But for me the most important phase was acceptance. This took several years for me and was like a switch. It was an ordinary event, but for me it was the day that I said I would no longer be embarrassed about or ashamed of my handicap. If someone can accept their handicap, I think it makes them a better person. My handicap has made me a better person; I am more talkative, open and a patient person.

For families of the victims I would recommend support, but it needs to be balanced. Pay attention to their moods and balance your support off that. Don’t overdo it or be 'pushy' in getting them to do things. I got started with bowling. It was just a visit with a friend of my dad's who was bowling that night. I sat and watched and was interested. The next week I entered the league and started bowling. If my parents had pushed me to go bowling I might not have gone.

It is tougher for the familes; you want to help but the victim wants to be independent. That's the balancing act. 

The little boy who changed my life 

Don Vickery is a double amputee, missing his left leg just above the knee and his right leg just below the knee. He is also missing a couple fingers on his left hand. In this segment, he writes about how an encounter with a little boy changed his life and how, through the help and encouragement of others, he became a PGA golf professional.

In 1989 I was involved in an explosion that left me in this condition. My initial feelings were fear and sadness. I was afraid of what was to become of me and sad because it was me. I think that anyone finding themselves in this condition would have similar reactions.

I struggled with the fact that internally I was the same person, but externally I was so very different. I was 31 when I was injured and for my whole life things had come so easy for me athletically, but in a single flash everything had become such a struggle. I found myself having to relearn very simple tasks. I remember going to the physical therapy room very early on, being really depressed and not wanting to be there. I was on one of those large therapy beds and I was supposed to be lifting 5-pound weights to get my strength back but I wasn’t really into it. On the bed with me was a little boy, probably 10 or so. All he did was stare at me. I was so wrapped up in my own pain that it irritated me. After some time I called the therapist over to move either me or the kid. “What’s with the kid?” I said. “He just keeps staring at me. Can I be moved?”

“Mr. Vickery,” he said, “the little boy’s name is Michael. He is 10 years old and a few months ago he was riding his bike and fell from it, hitting his head on the curb and has a traumatic brain injury. He cannot move, he cannot speak, and will probably remain this way the rest of his life.”

All at once it hit me with the rush of a flood. That little boy was lying there wishing he could do what I was doing. It’s funny how self-pity can be converted to empathy. I was broken-hearted, but for another person, not for myself anymore. Although my condition was bad I did have something to work with and that was hope. I knew from that experience that I was going to give life my best shot.

I quickly learned to stand again and with the aid of crutches learned to walk a little. I also learned that the more I walked the more I could walk, so I practiced it as much as my body would let me. After a year or so I was walking without crutches for short distances. I would fall now and then but I would always get up and continue on. I did learn how to fall without  hurting myself – a professional faller, if you will.

One day a friend of mine invited me to play golf. I was a little apprehensive but thought that it would be nice to just see a golf course because I had never been to one. We get to the course and he’s showing me this and that and I’m thinking, I’m never going to do this, it feels awkward, I don’t want to look silly, but most of all, what a great friend. I continued to play golf with my friend and my balance became better and I was able to hit the ball more consistently. After four or five years I was shooting scores in the 80s and now and again in the 70s. I began working at a golf course in Savannah, Ga. And the professional there thought that I could become a professional, too. I took the playing-ability test and passed that and began the grueling process of becoming a PGA member. In May 2009 I achieved that goal and today I am the director of instruction at the Wilmington Island Club in Savannah, Ga. The point of me telling you this is that I am what I am today because people who loved the game of golf shared that love with me.

I know it’s not easy to deal with devastating injury. I know the range of emotions that one feels. I also know that there are wonderful things that life has to offer to anyone willing to live it to its fullest. Are there times when things seem hopeless? Sure there are. Is it really hopeless? Not in this universe. We all face change, we adapt and we move on. Will it take time? Sure it will. Will it get better? It will get better every single minute of every single day. Have a little faith in yourself, humanity, and most of all in God. It’s going to be OK. 

The healing power of golf

Judy Alvarez is a South Florida-based PGA/LPGA Master Professional who works with people who have disabilities, teaching them and helping them to use golf on whatever level they are capable of to enhance their lives. The following is adapted from her book, 'Broken Tees and Mended Hearts. A Life's Journey Serving Wounded Warriors and Injured Spirits.'

Can what I, as a golf professional, and other golf instructors offer really change or shape the lives of someone who has faced a life-changing injury? Can we help make their lives better? Can we actually contribute to making a difference?

What can we possibly do to help them and their loved ones after what they’ve been through? Sometimes when I am teaching, I feel helpless (but not hopeless). Rehab teams are comprised of doctors, therapists, prosthetists, family and friends. Why not add a golf instructor to the team? The least we can do is take the time to listen, demonstrate compassion, provide lessons and adaptive golf programs, offer access to golf courses and tournaments and provide modified equipment. It doesn’t sound difficult.

Perhaps as golf professionals this is how we can “give back.' We can facilitate the process and simplify the procedures. We can be catalysts for change in the rehabilitation program. We can send out an invitation to the injured.

If you’re reading this chronologically, you’ve just read the story of  Don Vickery of Savannah, Ga. Actually, you read only part of his remarkable tale. He served his country from 1976-83 and lost both legs in 1989, then became the first double amputee to earn PGA membership. “Golf pros are always willing to help someone,” he says. “It’s the nature of who we are. We don’t want to leave people behind.” Let’s use the golf course as a road to recovery, one fairway at a time, one swing at a time. We already have the ball field – we just need to send out the invitation. We have built it – let them come.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to talk to many men and women who have served in the armed forces in combat theaters. The reoccurring theme has always been that golf on a variety of levels is an important therapeutic tool and a saving grace.

It’s fascinating to me that these veterans feel that golf can facilitate the transformation of changing and saving lives, snap someone out of depression, lift a spirit and enhance a family nucleus. I know as a golf professional, we get caught up in the everyday requirements of our business and forget just how powerful a representation our ball field is for our veterans and for anyone with traumatic injuries.

Golf is a potent prescription for broken spirits who carry around “hidden wounds” and have lost their compass on life. By introducing a wounded warrior to golf, we can help them begin to feel better about themselves. As Vickery says, “Whatever you want to do in life is not up to your injury, it’s up to you. Don’t let your injury dictate what you can and cannot do in life.”

You get just as much out of the game of golf and life as you put into it. Don’t give up. Fight!

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.