Hate to be Rude: ‘I don’t want to screw up’
Golf doesn’t often provide material worthy of a heart-tugger on the silver screen, a storyline full of human tragedy followed by determined, painful recovery and some sort of triumph. This week, though, the game offers such an episode, for Ken Green returns to Champions Tour competition for the first time since losing his brother, girlfriend, dog and his lower right leg because of an automobile accident last June.
Starting Friday, the five-time PGA Tour winner will partner with Mike Reid in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Green doesn’t expect to be all that competitive in the better-ball event, not that it matters to anyone but himself. What he will be is inspirational and nervous.
Ken Green charity golf event
Ken Green had his lower right leg amputated as the result of a tragic RV accident in June that killed is brother, Billy, his girlfriend Jeannie Hodgin and his dog Nip. Green hopes to be back on the Champions Tour in April.
“I’m as nervous as I’ve ever been going into an event,” said Green, his amputated leg outfitted with prosthesis. “Some of it is knowing I’m not ready. Part of it is that some of me thinks I can still play. I don’t want to screw up.”
Green shot 68 last October from white tees and has since shot 70 from the blues. But some days he goes birdieless. Then there are the health problems. He has played but four rounds in the past five to six weeks. He spent nine days in bed and four in the hospital because of pneumonia in late March. And he still feels excruciating discomfort at times. Daily he takes about 15 pills for reasons relating to leg nerves, pain and inflammation.
“It’s a mystery,” he said of his performance this week at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. “I’m more nervous about the mystery. Once I see the movie Friday, I’ll know.”
Green, 51, says he hits the ball as far as a 65-year-old man these days. But not any 65-year-old man; like one who has had his name on his bag for years. There’s self-deprecation in the statement because his drives post-accident have peaked at 260 and averaged 245-250.
“It’s safe to say I’m not quite pro-caliber,” said Green, who characterizes himself as a 4-5 handicap. “There will be ugliness. I’ll have to laugh and hope Mike plays well.”
Green worked with his longtime instructor, Peter Kostis, last Thursday and Friday and tweaked a few things that he figures will help. The problem is he can’t practice for long periods at a time, or for days in a row, without feeling pain or burnout. So there’s yet another disadvantage.
“If I hit more than 70 balls and try it the next day, I’m fried,” he said. “Usually the third day is a nightmare.”
Yet his story, sad as it has been, has some dreamy elements. His can-do spirit is admirable. He’s touching and moving people like never before. This week, his inspiration will be in full view like never before.
“I do intend to enjoy it,” Green said. But then he tacked on a competitor’s qualifier: “I won’t be happy if I don’t make any birdies.”
• Brian Davis has been praised for calling a penalty on himself in the Verizon Heritage playoff against Jim Furyk. The move ended Davis’ bid for his first PGA Tour victory and elevated golf’s reputation as a gentleman’s game in which players are expected to police themselves.
Given the win-at-all-costs nature we’ve seen at times in other sports and in society, it’s understandable Davis would be hailed. But wasn’t this business as usual inside the ropes?
As Bobby Jones said after calling a two-shot penaly on himself and losing by one shot, “Would you commend a person for not robbing a bank?”
• With 15 PGA Tour victories, including one major title, Jim Furyk is no lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame. But at 39, he’s getting there. He’s entering the conversation. He’s a couple of select pieces away.
Check the Hall standards and you’ll see this trend: Guys tend to get in with 10 or so with three majors (see Payne Stewart and Larry Nelson). And with nearly 20 victories and a major (see Tom Kite and others).
Furyk should get bonus points for a high level of consistency annually and for grinding out 15 victories during the same era as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.
• Caught up with two-time major winner Fuzzy Zoeller the other day at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am and casually asked if he had a good time during his first visit without playing. The answer surprised a bit.
“It’s the first time in 31 years I’ve enjoyed it,” said the man who won the 1979 Masters in his first appearance. “I didn’t have to get up and go anywhere."
• Speaking of elders, Hale Irwin last week became the 12th player to make 1,000 starts on the PGA and Champions Tour combined. Any Tour player, particularly anyone with a private plane, should read his transcript for reasons of gratitude and perspective.
He made the cut in his first pro start in 1968 in Memphis but didn’t get paid because only the top 50 places did. His first check came the next year in Cleveland: $457.41. Castle Pines founder Jack Vickers sponsored him starting out, spotting him $20,000. So money earned up to that amount went to Vickers.
“I got to keep a little of that beyond the 20, but it all went right back,” Irwin said.
Little wonder then that Hale Irwin – now known as a Hall of Famer, now known as the greatest senior golfer ever – used to sleep in his car sometimes while playing the Tour.
“If my expenses went over $300 or $350 for the week, I was getting pretty tight,” he said. “Pretty tight. That’s why . . . I spent some nights in the car.”
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.