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.'

Getty Images

This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

There was also one other similarity.

“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

Getty Images

Sunday drama won't overshadow USGA's issues

By Randall MellJune 18, 2018, 1:30 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It looked like a British Open.

It was playing like a U.S. Open.

Through two rounds, Shinnecock Hills was double trouble in the best kind of way.

It was a hybrid in the most appealing sense of golf course architecture’s ancient allure and its modern defenses.

Halfway through, the USGA was nailing the setup, with Dustin Johnson the only player under par in one of the toughest but fairest tests in recent U.S. Open memory.

This looked like it was going to be remembered as USGA CEO Mike Davis’ masterpiece, but even a Sunday to remember couldn’t trump a Saturday to forget.

Sunday’s drama - with the history Brooks Koepka made becoming the first player in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, with Tommy Fleetwood’s 63 equaling Johnny Miller’s final round record - could not restore faith being lost in the USGA’s ability to set up and manage this championship.

This U.S. Open ended with footnotes the size of headlines.

The issues arising Saturday with the USGA losing control of the course raised even more troubling questions about why this organization’s heavy hand can’t seem to avoid becoming as much a part of the story as the competition.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

The controversy that was ignited Saturday when Phil Mickelson intentionally incurred a two-shot penalty by making a putting stroke on a moving ball also raised questions about the organization’s ability to fairly administer its own rules.

It’s a shame, because Davis has some good ideas.

His reimagined vision of this championship as the “ultimate test” makes sense as a better and more complete event.

His ideas are designed to identify the game’s most complete player on America’s best courses better than any other major.

It’s just not working.

This year’s failure in the wake of the ’04 debacle at Shinnecock Hills is especially worrisome. Davis vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Somehow, some way, he let it happen again.

Maybe the old standards we’ve come to judge the U.S. Open upon are too high, impossible to meet with today’s more athletic player, high-tech coaching and space-age drivers, shafts and balls.

Nobody ever protected par better than the USGA, but maybe par can’t be properly protected anymore, without tricking up a course.

Because if USGA officials can’t make its exacting formula work at an architectural treasure like Shinnecock Hills, where they had it absolutely perfect for two days, you wonder if they can make it work at all.

The testament to how the USGA was nailing its formula wasn’t in what we heard the first two days. It was in what we weren’t hearing. Only one player was under par through Friday, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard in the locker room or on the range.

They were wiping the smiles off players’ faces without infuriating them.

In that regard, the USGA was delivering a miracle.

The wonderful appeal Shinnecock Hills held as a U.S. Open/British Open hybrid at week’s start ended up being twisted into something else by week’s end. It stood as a symbol of the championship’s confusion over its proper identity.

Even with Sunday’s compelling storylines unfolding, players were still frustrated over setup.

Saturday was over the edge, with Davis admitting “there were parts of this, simply put, that were too tough.” He said winds were stronger than expected, but the winds weren’t that much different than were forecast.

So USGA officials softened the course for Sunday, with more overnight watering and more friendly hole locations.

That turned Shinnecock Hills into Jekyl and Hyde on the weekend.

Scoring told the story.

Rickie Fowler shot 84 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday.

Fleetwood shot 78 and 63.

They weren’t alone, even though the weather wasn’t as dramatically different as the scores would indicate.

This wasn’t about the weather.

It was about the course being manipulated in ways that frustrated players.

“They soaked the hell out of it,” Pat Perez said after tying for 36th. “They’ve got all the pins in the middle.

“It is supposed to gradually get to where it was Saturday afternoon. You don’t lose it on Saturday and then try to make up for it, soak the course and make it totally different.”

Brandt Snedeker was equally befuddled playing drastically different conditions in weather that wasn’t so drastically different.

“The thing that is unfortunate is that the guys that were playing the best golf this week took the brunt of it yesterday, when it should have been vice versa,” Snedeker said. “Some guys got robbed of a really good chance to win a golf tournament yesterday afternoon, which is not fair.”

There were other issues that continued to challenge faith in the USGA.

Despite later acknowledging it set up the course too tough in spots on Saturday, the USGA put players on the clock for slow play.

The Mickelson penalty also raised issues.

He got a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5 (playing moving ball) when there was some outcry over whether he should have been penalized under Rule 1-2 (exerting influence), which would have opened the door to disqualification for a serious breach.

The USGA rigorously defended 14-5 (playing moving ball) as the proper call.

John Daly wasn’t disqualified for striking a moving ball in a similar instance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. He also got a two-shot penalty, but there was a difference in the situations that might have justified Mickelson’s disqualification.

Daly said he intentionally hit a moving ball out of frustration, as protest over the USGA’s unfair hole locations.

Mickelson said he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills to try prevent his ball from rolling off the green. He said he knew the rules and was intentionally breaking them to gain an advantage. He compared it to using the rules to get a better lie with a drop, but there’s a difference between using the rules to your advantage and breaking them to gain an advantage.

The difference in those motivations, as Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee pointed out, opened the interpretation of the violation as a serious breach worthy of disqualification.

The question of whether Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules was serious enough to invoke disqualification as a breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 was dismissed by the USGA as inappropriate.

It should be noted here that the USGA and R&A should be applauded for its monumental overhaul of the Rules of Golf, a rules modernization going into effect next year. It’s a welcomed simplification of the rules that required an exhaustive review.

This week’s complications show the unrelenting challenges they continue to tackle.

We leave this U.S. Open with history being made, with Koepka joining Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as just the third players since World War II to win the title in back-to-back years.

We also leave hoping the USGA can deliver four days of next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as free of controversy as it delivered the first two days at Shinnecock Hills, because this year’s championship felt half baked.

Will Gray contributed to this report.

Getty Images

Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 1:29 am

The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.

But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.

Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.

His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:

"Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.

"On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.

"On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.

"And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …

"There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."

Getty Images

Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

“My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.