Adaptive Golf: A new mission for wounded warriors

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2017, 12:54 pm

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. – “They said I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life,” smiles Edward Gizara as he pulls his driver back and launches a shot into a spring sky.

Gizara is a medical miracle. He’s an inspiration and an unfiltered example of the best of us. But most of all he’s a survivor, not that any of those descriptions fit as he smothers another tee shot low and left.

He may be a genuine hero, but a bad swing is still a bad swing, and Gizara pivots, annoyed more than angry, as his ball races toward a row of trees down the left side of The Legends at Parris Island’s practice tee. The entire episode lasts just seconds but is a shining example of what self-belief, support and some golf can do even with the bleakest of outlooks.

In the summer of 1997 Gizara was living his dream.

A career Marine who, after numerous deployments overseas, had returned to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to become a drill instructor. For a select few it’s a rite of passage to return to where it all began to train the next generation.

As he neared the end of his training and was sent to his first platoon, Gizara was volunteered to demonstrate the proper way to climb a rope on the combat endurance course. The ensuing 26-foot fall would fracture the L3 disc in his back and change his life forever.

Gizara was medevacked to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Augusta, Ga., where he underwent nine fusion surgeries on his back and spent eight months recovering before he could even go home. When he could finally join his family he spent six months on his back with his wife having to roll him every two hours.



For a staff sergeant who spent his entire life leading men, Gizara’s physical limitations understandably became a psychological black hole. Two decades removed from those dark moments, he can now admit that he attempted suicide a “few times.”

“Everything was no, no, no, and I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Gizara admits.

Initially, Gizara’s focus was on beating the odds and his doctor’s long-term diagnoses. He worked so hard to walk again doctors had to replace rods that had been inserted into his back multiple times because of wear and tear.

“You push yourself, so sometimes you break yourself,” he says. “I never thought I wouldn’t walk again; in the Marines you never give up and you never quit, you never stop fighting.”

Overcoming paralysis, however, was just the beginning. Gizara was still a Marine and still needed a mission, which he found on the golf course of all places.

Although he hadn’t played golf since 1997, a friend told him about an Adaptive Golf Program at The Legends that’s designed to encourage those with disabilities and challenges to play.

Cody Carter – an assistant pro at The Legends – altered Gizara’s swing to match his abilities and designed an action that wouldn’t cause any further injury. What Carter didn’t need to do was find ways to motivate Gizara. That came naturally.

“It makes you appreciate what you have, the determination people have. It’s definitely inspiring for me,” Carter says. “Golf makes them feel normal, it’s a chance to do what everyone else is doing.”

For Gizara, as it is for so many who enter programs like Adaptive Golf, being on the course was much more than simply a chance to play a game – it was freedom.

“It saved my life and my family understands that. That’s why I’m at the course so much,” Gizara says.

Gizara, who lives in Savannah, Ga., was so inspired by the program he launched a chapter in his hometown and meets with a group of about a dozen players twice a month. Just as he did when he was in the Marines, he now leads by example.

As one would expect from a former drill instructor, Gizara’s bedside manner is, well, unique. During last year’s RBC Heritage Gizara set up an Adaptive Golf booth at Harbour Town Golf Links when a man in a motorized scooter drove by.

“Can you play golf?” Gizara asked.

“Are you stupid or what?” was the man’s response.

Gizara explained what the Adaptive Golf Program offered and how they could teach the man to play with the help of new equipment like the ParaGolfer, which is an all-terrain wheelchair that raises the player into a standing position and allows a more conventional swing.

“He started playing golf and now he really keeps everyone motivated,” Gizara says of the man. “I was in the wheelchair, I was in the scooter, it gave me purpose in my life which I was missing for a long time.”

The benefits of programs like Adaptive Golf go well beyond exceeding the physical limitations of a particular injury. For those like Gizara who finds themselves lacking a purpose and passion it’s a way to reengage with life.

Steve Giammona is a physical therapist at Beaufort (S.C.) Memorial Hospital who initially began the Adaptive Golf Program at Parris Island as a way to extend his patient’s rehabilitation, but he quickly realized it was also a way for patients to re-socialize.

“Part of what all this boils down to is it creates a social network and it gives them folks they can speak to who have been through similar situations and they can speak with them about how to cope with the world,” Giammona says. “So many ways I think golf mimics life and these folks have been faced with some of the biggest adversities. As they say on Parris Island, they [Marines] overcome and adapt.”

They also say you’re always a Marine, and Gizara is certainly an example of that. Golf saved his life and gave him a purpose, which in many ways can be as debilitating as losing the use of your legs or a missing limb.

Back on the range at The Legends, Gizara spins back toward the practice tee, he twists and bends to re-tee his golf ball before settling back in with his driver.

He pauses, looks up with a glare straight out of the drill instructor’s handbook and offers one final thought, “It’s not about your inability, it’s about your ability.”

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.