DANBURY, Conn. – Ken Green is starting the second phase of his golf life at the place where he began his first.
Ridgewood Country Club usually sleeps on Monday mornings. It’s a day for caddies to play, as Green did in the early 1970s here. But on this early-fall day, Green is neither caddying nor playing. Instead, he’s starting the fight of his life.
As the morning sun peers over his right shoulder, Green looks to be a shadow of his former self: ashen, nearly bald, struggling with crutches and a prosthetic lower right leg that’s supported – just like his left foot – in freshly shined black FootJoys.
A gathering on the clubhouse patio Sept. 28 looks like a roster from a 1980s PGA Tour event. Among the 20 Tour pros here to help offset Green’s medical expenses are longtime friend Mark Calcavecchia, plus Andy Bean, Russ Cochran, Fred Funk, Mike Hulbert, Blaine McCallister, Mike Reid and Scott Simpson, to name a few.
Afterward, many players were to have been bused to Baltimore for the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship. For now, as Brad Bryant says while waiting to tee off on the 11th hole, “We’re here to raise money, and more important, to let him know we care.”
For a guy who supposedly annoyed golf fans and the media for his unpredictable demeanor on course, Green sure has a lot of friends. Twenty-five foursomes paid $5,000 per group, with the money going to the Ken Green Trust. Another fundraiser is planned for Nov. 23 at Breakers West in West Palm Beach, Fla., Green’s adopted hometown.
Like everyone in the field this day, Green is wearing a bright green hat inscribed with “The Greatest Comeback Ever.” He displays his gratitude by riding in a cart around the course and yukking it up with each group.
A horrific single-vehicle accident on a Mississippi interstate June 8 killed Green’s brother Bill, girlfriend Jeanne Hodgin and dog Nip. Green, 51, was badly injured, notably his right leg.
“Can I play golf with this leg?” Green asked doctors.
“No,” they said.
“Then cut it off, because I’m playing golf again.”
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 when his life’s circumstances were on the rise. In 2009, his first full year on the Champions Tour, he had earned $123,906 in 11 starts, including a seventh place in the AT&T Champions Classic.
Three months after the accident, Green played 11 holes from the forward tees at the Breakers Rees Jones Course in West Palm Beach. He was 3 over when he quit, citing fatigue. His drives flew about 210 yards. His 8-iron shots traveled 120. By his take, the score was better than the ballstriking.
The round did nothing to change his belief that he’ll make history by playing the Champions Tour with a prosthetic leg. It’s a resolve he put to the test recently when he played 18 holes at Danbury’s Richter Park and shot 90.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Green, a five-time Tour winner and former Ryder Cupper.
“That’s going to happen.”
To get there, he has recruited longtime friend Peter Kostis to help him retrain his golf swing. “I used to clear the left side and fade the ball,” Green said. “But Peter tells me I won’t be able to do that and I’ll have to learn a different swing.”
Green also will need a new, more-flexible prosthesis than the one he’s got now. And he also needs to manage the pain that wells up and threatens to overcome him. For now, he’s relying upon oxycodone as needed – which he takes with the approval of his physician. His doctor also is planning procedures to deaden nerves in the amputated leg. A remedy can’t come soon enough.
“The doctor feels he can control the nerves,” Green said. “I’ll be ecstatic. It’s ugly. It’s constant. It doesn’t last 30 seconds. You cry all the time because there’s no other way around this.”
Having been treated for depression and stabilized with prescribed medications, Green knows he has to watch out – the more so because now he’s doing it without anti-depressants and without a psychiatrist. He’s also trying to regain his strength and physique, having regained only a few of the 35 pounds he lost since the accident.
And so Green marches onward. The day after the fundraiser, he was slated to fly to Dallas to pick up a German shepherd, courtesy of a former pro-am partner. Then Green will drive home to Florida to avoid having to put the dog on a plane.
Along the way, he intends to stop at the accident site in Mississippi.
He’s unsure why he’s returning to Interstate 20’s Mile Marker 118, the scene of his worst moment.
“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.”
This time around, he thinks he’s on to something, a certain strength and a sense that life that he didn’t always have before.
“I think my brain will be stronger,” Green said. “Frankly, that’s been one of my weaknesses.”
– Jeff Rude contributed from Orlando, Fla.