Golf program a hit at pediatric hospital

By Al TaysNovember 6, 2013, 2:02 pm

Meet Cooper Burks. A 9-year-old fourth grader, Cooper loves to sing karaoke, is learning to play the guitar and had a blast last summer at acting camp. But his real love is sports.

'He can tell you about any sport and any stats in any sport,' says his mom, Kellye Burks. 'He watches SportsCenter every morning and he reads the sports page every day at home.' Ask Cooper about his favorite sports, teams and athletes and he'll tell you, in complete sentences, that he likes the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears, and Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. That last choice is something of a requirement around the Burks household in Nashville, as Kelly's husband Jeff and several other family members went to Auburn, as did Dufner. 'We are huge War Eagle fans,' she says. 'I was kind of the black sheep of the family and attended Alabama for three years but had to renounce that when I married an Auburn fan.'

Until last year, there was one element missing in Cooper's sports-rich life. He had never actually played baseball, or football, or golf. The reason: He has spent much of his life in a wheelchair.

'Cooper was born with dislocated hips, and to date he's had 17 hip surgeries,' Kellye explains. After being born prematurely, he stopped breathing a couple of times. Doctors aren't certain what caused his condition, but they think he might not have recovered full blood circulation from his waist down after one of his loss-of-breath incidents.

Through all his medical procedures, Cooper has soldiered on. 'He comes out of these horrible surgeries, six and seven hours long, and he's smiling in the recovery room,' Kellye says. And he refuses to let being in a wheelchair limit him. 'Cooper never has an attitude of 'I can't do that.' There aren't many roadblocks that you can put in front of Cooper that are going to stop him.'

Cooper is exactly the sort of kid that golf pro Kevin Corn had in mind in 2010 when he started a golf-as-therapy program at Ranken Jordan, a pediatric hospital in St. Louis. He had seen an article in PGA Magazine about a similar program in Dallas and thought 'Why aren't we doing that here?'

Corn, currently a teaching pro at Oak Brook Golf Club near Edwardsville, Ill., pitched the program to the Gateway PGA Section, of which he is a member. As executive director Josh Riley recalls it, Corn told section representatives he had just taken a tour of Ranken Jordan and said he felt he was being 'called' to do something there.

The section reps were equally impressed after taking their own tour. 'You'd have a kid who was in a wheelchair who played competitive basketball, who had complete use of his arms, he's just as competitive as can be, and he's whacking that (golf) ball, hitting it great,' Riley recalls. 'And then there were kids that you could tell had seriously debilitating illnesses, who had very little use of their hands and arms, but you put your hands on their hands and help them swing that club and you look over and they've got a smile that's just as big as that kid who's competitive.

'Those kids' whole lives are built around the schedule of rehabilitation. When they get to go outside, which isn't often, they really cherish it, and then when they get to see that they can actually do a sport that they probably either in their own mind can't or someone has told them that they can't, it makes it that much better.

'But the common denominator in any successful program is always, No. 1, a really dedicated PGA professional. And that's Kevin, no doubt about it.'

THE SECTION, through its charitable foundation, agreed to donate all the necessary equipment, 'So the program hasn't cost the hospital a penny,' says Corn, who won the section's annual 'Junior Golf Leader' award for 2013. 'They've been incredibly supportive; the only questions they've ever asked are 'What can we do? What do you need?''

Although Corn chose Ranken Jordan, one of two St. Louis facilities ranked among the nation's best children's hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, he could have chosen virtually any other of the city's five pediatric hospitals. 'It's amazing the level and quality of medical care that we have here in this city,' he says.              

Ranken Jordan's website explains that it is 'one of only a handful of hospitals in the country that provide rehabilitation and subacute medical treatment for children regardless of their family’s ability to pay. ... For children with complex medical conditions such as brain injuries, congenital defects or complications due to premature birth, Ranken Jordan specializes in bridging the gap between traditional hospital treatment and going home.'

Corn's goal was to provide a physical activity the kids could do to some degree no matter their physical limitations. Some of them were convinced that because they were in a wheelchair, or had to use a walker, participating in a sport was out of the question. But Corn and a group of volunteers wouldn't take no for an answer. They concentrated on what the kids could do, not what they couldn't. One boy came to a session in his hospital bed, where he was restricted to lying on his stomach. With his arms dangling over the edge, he was given a putter and, Corn recalls with a chuckle, 'putted better than I do.'

'I tell people I've seen a lot of miracles through our golf program,' says Janine Roe, Ranken Jordan's community program director.

'There's so many kids that people would say there's no way they can play golf,' Corn says. 'From the first week the only question we have is how can we get them playing golf? It doesn't matter to us what a kid is dealing with or what their prognosis may be or anything else. It's just a matter of how can we get them playing golf while they're there and enjoying it and showing them that you can be involved in sports and athletics and here's something you can do when you leave the hospital if you choose to. We'll get them in touch with the right people when they leave, depending on where they're from. That's to make sure that they can continue on with it if they want to.'

WITH INDOOR and outdoor facilities, the program operates year-round, in good weather and bad. The kids use regular golf clubs donated by the Gateway PGA Section's foundation and hit AlmostGolf practice balls, which fly only a third the distance of regular balls but feel similar. Corn likens them to a firm Nerf ball. Because the balls aren't hard enough to break glass, 'We'll even let the kids hit drivers off the windows,' Corn says. 'They have a blast with that.'

While windows are the target of choice during indoor sessions, which are held in the 'Warner's Corner' indoor playground (it was constructed with money donated by former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and his wife, Brenda), outdoors is another story. 'We found out quickly that the kids like having human targets,' Corn says. 'Anytime you go out there to pick up balls or whatnot, you know you've got a target on your back.'

Having fun is the key. This is not traditional golf instruction (although that is available for anyone who wants it). 'We'll do anything and everything,' Corn says. 'We've played baseball with the golf balls - really just anything that we could come up with that puts a smile on their faces while they're out there. It gets them to the point where, when they see the golf clubs or the golf balls come out, the first thought is fun. If that includes them hitting golf balls and playing like everybody else does, wonderful. But the main thing is that when they see that, they equate it with having a good time. Then they'll want to use (the clubs) and eventually they'll use them the right way.'

Ranken Jordan therapists often include golf in individual patients' programs because of its positive effects on things such as balance, arm and wrist strength and flexibility. Plus, they know the kids like it. 'They've used golf as a reward to get kids to do their (regular) therapy,' Corn says. And when kids leave the program, then periodically come back, often the first thing they say is ''Hey, when's Kevin coming with the golf program?'' Roe says.

Corn's program isn't the only one connecting golf pros with kids in pediatric hospitals. The PGA's South Florida Section runs a similar one that has been operating since 2010. Begun at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., it later expanded to the Children's Hospital at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Quantum House in West Palm Beach, Miami Children's Hospital and the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers.

Similar to the St. Louis program, the South Florida one has produced many remarkable stories. Section executive director Geoff Lofstead relates one about a boy who had undergone a heart transplant. afterward, during his recovery, 'All he wanted to do was (resume playing) golf,' Lofstead says. The section procured him a set of clubs and now he is taking lessons at a 'regular' golf course. Then there was the teenage girl who could barely pick up a club when she started the program. By the time she was released from the hospital, she said her goal was to make her middle school's golf team. 'Lo and behold,' Lofstead says, 'we found out that she actually did make the team.'

Corn has a wish list of enhancements to the program. He'd love to get an appearance by Dennis Walters, the trick-shot artist who has been paralyzed from the waist down since a 1974 accident. And after a visit by 1987 U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson, Corn would welcome similar efforts by other Tour players.

Corn would also like to take the program national, an endeavor he is pursuing with the mother and stepfather of Zakki Blatt, who was born with a complex heart defect and whose inspiring story is told in the following video, which was shot at this year's U.S. Open.

FOR NOW, Corn will continue to introduce golf to the kids at Ranken Jordan, chronicling the daily miracles through his blog, Birdies and Smiles. 'It's been an interesting 2 1/2 years,' he says, 'to say the least.'

Over that time span, approximately 1,400 kids ages 4-20 have participated since the program debuted on May 10, 2011. Officially it's a once-a-week activity, but according to Corn, 'The kids enjoy it so much that they'll talk about it and they'll have the therapists get the clubs out for them at other times during the week.'

No one enjoys the program more than Cooper, who was referred to Ranken Jordan after one of his surgeries in 2012 and has been back three or four times since.

'He's already counting the days until Saturday, because Saturday is golf day at Ranken Jordan,' his mom says.

She is looking forward to the beginning of 2014, when Cooper is expected to be out of his wheelchair. Then he'll be able to enjoy golf on a whole new level.

'Golf is a great sport for him because it he wouldn't have to do a lot of walking,' she says. 'I think this is going to be Cooper's sport.'

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.