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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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.