Ken Green returns this week to the scene of his celebrated 2010 return. He’s back at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, back in competition for the first time since June, back in a position to again inspire.
A year ago, at 51, Green made two birdies a day in the 54-hole, better-ball event, his first PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament since losing his lower right leg 10 months prior. Believed to be the first amputee to play a major tour, Green teamed with Mike Reid to finish 26th out of 33 teams. That is, if you believe the scoreboard over emotions.
“To do what he did is not going to register as a win in the tournament,” Reid said, “but it’s a win.”
Green transformed from anxious curiosity to impressive golfer then on a 7,087-yard course at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. Using a manufactured swing and playing with pain all over and limping hither and yon, he served more testimony about the potential of the human condition. He left with tears of joy, hopeful that someday he could perhaps finish in the top 10 at a Champions Tour stop.
Fast-forward 12 months, though, and Green isn’t as optimistic. Both his golf and physical condition have regressed. The two slides are linked. He has played only once a week for the past several months because nerve pain in his leg worsened and constant headaches surfaced.
“One thing I can handle,” said Green, who suffered the loss of his lower right leg in a June 2009 recreational vehicle accident that claimed the lives of his brother, girlfriend and dog. “Like if the leg goes crazy, you cry a little bit. But the headaches are constant. I don’t have the strength to handle both.”
Green said he takes three kinds of pain medication and has seen at least a dozen doctors since June. An acupuncturist told him last month that his pain and headaches might be related to liver problems caused by having taken so many pills. Hopeful that strengthening the liver would help his leg and head, Green has undergone several acupuncture treatments and also botox. The head pain went away for three days last week but returned.
“It’s better, but there’s still too much,” he said before a Tuesday practice round. “Taking a step back, it’s awful. Being worse than a year ago is not easy to take. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say I’m worse a year later. I never would have foreseen that.”
Despite all that, Green will play in the main Legends Division with longtime friend Mark Calcavecchia. Given a sponsor exemption, Green figures he’s the equivalent of a 3-4 handicap.
“Calc is just going to have to play golf,” said Green, also scheduled to play in the 72nd Senior PGA Championship on May 26-29 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. “He rode my (butt) long enough. It’s time to go the other way.”
As he spoke, he was headed to an equipment trailer in search of a “miracle driver, putter and anything else that might be deemed miracle status.” Yet he’s carrying more than pain, rust and self-deprecation into his latest public appearance.
“This is my little bit of heaven, playing professional golf at this level,” Green said. “Even though I may stink, to be out there fighting gives me an extreme lift. I’m really excited about it. It’s definitely going to boost my morale.”
How does the atmosphere on the Champions Tour differ from that of the PGA Tour?
“It’s stress-free,” Kenny Perry said without hesitation. “It really is. It’s just very relaxed.”
And how are the Champions’ galleries different?
“Well, the color of the hair, for one thing,” Perry went on. “And everybody is just in a good mood. It’s more like a picnic. Everybody is strolling, having a good time. Everything on the regular Tour is a lot more serious, a lot more businesslike. Everybody is out to make that $1.4 mllion first-place paycheck or whatever, and it’s a total different scene.”
Perry said he plans to play primarily the Champions from now on, with spot appearances on the big Tour at places such as Colonial, Memorial and the Greenbrier.
What’s more, you won’t find him in the gym as much as you did last year. Perry hired a personal trainer and nutritionist last year and lost 35 pounds. But his golf suffered. He said the stronger he got, the shorter he hit the ball.
“Now I’m on the fat diet,” Perry cracked. “When I played great in 2008-09, I was heavy. I don’t get it.”
Nutritionists, some of whom just fainted, probably don’t, either.
Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.