Ken Green lost his girlfriend, brother and dog in a June accident. He lost his right leg to a subsequent amputation. He has lost hours upon hours of peace to physical and mental pain since.
But his is a half-full story. There are so many important things Green hasn’t lost. Spirit, sense of humor, perspective, candor and drive rate highly.
He needs all that and copious amounts of pills to confront his primary hurdle these days – dealing with constant, nerve-related pain. Green returned to a hospital last week for “heavy-duty” medication. A doctor injected his spine to alleviate discomfort.
“Unfortunately with the pills I take, the pain still rears its head,” Green said in a candid interview Tuesday.
Green estimates he swallows eight pills in the morning and six at night for nerve damage and seizures. Then he’ll take about three more daily for pain. That’s nearly one for every hole on a golf course.
“I take as much as I can,” he said.
His doctor is planning procedures to deaden the nerves in his amputated leg. A remedy can’t come soon enough.
“The doctor feels he can control the nerves,” Green said. “I’ll be ectastic. It’s ugly. It’s constant. It doesn’t last 30 seconds. Last night it lasted four hours. I was just in tears. You cry all the time because there’s no other way around this.”
Then there’s the emotional challenge. He classifies that clearly as a secondary obstacle.
“The mental stuff doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I lost a leg. I’ll get over that part. Mentally, losing people is the hard part. They’re gone.”
Sometimes that distress hits full force. The worst came Saturday at the Charlotte, N.C., airport, on his way from Florida to his hometown of Danbury, Conn., for a golf fundraiser for his medical expenses.
“It was the first time I realized I didn’t have Jeanne (Hodgin) or Nip,” Green said of his girlfriend, who was from North Carolina, and dog. “Over the last 10 years I haven’t spent 30 days without one of them. It just hit me that they’re gone. I must have looked like a fool. I just started bawling. For selfish reasons I missed them for me. They were my company.”
Green says he experiences no anger, no depression, no “Why me?” moments. The latter, he wisely says, serves no purpose.
“Asking that has never crossed my mind,” he said. “It’s senseless. You either have to call it a day yourself or move forward.”
So he marches onward. Those steps are guided largely by his love for golf. He’s on a mission to set an example, to inspire, to have fun again in his sport. He says he wants to play every day again. Golf made his decision to opt for amputation simple.
“Can I play golf with this (damaged) leg?” Green asked doctors after the accident.
“No,” they said.
“Then cut it off because I’m playing golf again.”
Yes, he is. Already.
Three months after the wreck, Green played 11 holes from the red tees Sept. 12 at the Breakers Rees Jones Course in West Palm Beach, Fla. He shot 3-over-par 38 on the front, parred the next two and quit because he felt weak. His drives flew about 210 yards. His 8-iron shots traveled 120 yards. By his take, the score was better than the ballstriking.
“It was clearly a fluke,” he said. “I got up-and-down like every hole. I didn’t lose my short game in the (accident). I just lost my leg.”
Nor did he lose his pride. He called the 38 “disgusting.”
“The ego in a professional golfer assumes he can do what he used to do no matter what has happened,” Green said. “The first few shots were disgusting. I hit a lot of low thin shots I haven’t hit since I was a little kid.”
The round did nothing to change the 51-year-old’s belief that he’ll make history by playing the Champions Tour with a prosthetic leg.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” the five-time PGA Tour winner and former Ryder Cupper said. “That’s going to happen.”
Green will hit some more shots Monday at the fundraiser at Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury, where organizers hope to raise more than $100,000. The next day he’ll fly to Dallas and encounter further emotional experiences.
He’ll pick up a new dog, another German shepherd, a former pro-am partner is giving him. Then he’ll drive home to Florida because he doesn’t believe in putting dogs on airplanes.
The trip back will make for flashbacks. He intends to stop at the accident site on that Mississippi interstate, where his RV blew a tire and hit a tree, where lives were taken and altered.
Over the years Green has battled clinical depression, deep debt, a draining divorce, sleeping and eating disorders, crying and drinking bouts, a declining golf game, PGA Tour authority and too many demons. The accident, though, came at a time his life’s circumstances were on the rise. In 2009, first full year on the Champions Tour, the colorful and controversial character finished seventh at the AT&T Champions Classic in March and earned $123,906 in 11 starts.
He’s unsure of the reason he’s returning to Mile Marker 118, the scene of his worst moment. He just knows that’s the plan.
“I used to watch movies like that where I’d go, ‘Who in his right mind would go back there,’ ” Green said. “Now I’m going to do it, too. I don’t know why. Something just tells me to do it. I go by feel. That’s why I get in so much trouble.”