Ken Green has always danced to the tune of a band that only he hears. Today, the steps are tenuous and come on one good leg instead of two, but he still hears the music and he is dancing as fast as he can.
Green played over the weekend at the Champions Tour’s Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Savannah, Ga. It’s a team event and he partnered with Mike Reid in his first Champions Tour event in the nine months since Green’s life completely blew up, never to be the same. He was traveling from Meridian, Miss., to Greensboro, N.C., in an RV when a tire exploded, sending the vehicle careening into a tree. The wreck killed his girlfriend, Jeanie, his brother, Bill, and his beloved German shepherd, Nip.
Green survived but his right leg was in grave danger. Told that if he ever had a chance to play golf again, the lower leg must be amputated. He never hesitated. “Take it,” he said. But life was not done with Green just yet. In January, his son, Hunter, was found dead in his dorm room at Southern Methodist University. An autopsy found prescription drugs and alcohol in his system.
The legs are the foundation of the golf swing but life’s foundation consists of much stronger stuff. As best he can, Green relies on his friends and his faith and strives to keep the past from drowning his present.
“I don’t know how I managed to say, ‘OK, I’m going to still keep fighting the fight and go out there and try to play golf,’ ” Green said. “That’s what the Big Guy wants me to do. You do the battle, but it’s a tough one. There’s a lot of crying moments, trust me.”
Green has chosen as his salvation a confounding game that doesn’t always tap the deserving or reward the brave. Yet, he loves golf so dearly that he is willing to do anything for a sliver of a chance to return to the place where he finds the most solace.
“From the day I said, ‘Cut my leg,’ there was no doubt in my mind I was going to play,” Green said. “Unfortunately, the mind thinks differently than the body. But I still believe that I can do this and I can pull this off. It’s just going to be a little longer time than I probably would have liked. Realistically, it hasn’t been that long.”
Nothing about this has been easy, which would make people of a lesser mind give up completely. Nerve damage in his right leg causes pain that causes problems. He was in the hospital recently for pneumonia. There are certain lies on the course that he simply can’t physically handle.
Green and Reid had played in last year’s Legends and in Reid’s mind there was no one to replace Green as his partner.
“So, it wasn’t long after his accident, I sent him a text, I guess probably a month after,” Reid said. “I said, ‘We can beat most of these teams on three legs, so get your game ready.’ ”
Green’s golf instructor for the past 27 years has been Peter Kostis. The pair have been working diligently on modifying Green’s swing to accommodate his prosthesis. Green is having to unlearn things about his swing that a lifetime of competition has ingrained. But he did play in a mini-tour event in Florida right before the Legends and shot 73-77.
If nothing else, Green has lifted the hearts of his fellow players and the golf community at large. During Masters week, Green accepted the Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers Association of America and received a standing ovation from the 300 people in the room.
“It’s wonderful when someone comes up to me and says that I’m inspiring them,” Green said, “because as I’ve said before, you know, Ken Green and inspiration don’t usually tie hand and hand. So it’s wonderful that maybe I can do someone some good.”
Reid offers his unique perspective. “It’s easy to say, ‘Boy, this is great for Ken. This is really going to lift his spirits.’ But it’s the other way around,” Reid said. “He’s lifting us. What a measure of courage to be here and to be committed. To see the reservoirs of strength that he’s had to draw from a year ago to now, it lifts all of us. That’s the message that I hope we don’t miss this week.”
He has faced the absolute worst that life has to offer, and who among us could say we have the courage and perseverance to do the same? Cry not for Ken Green. He will cry enough for us all. Instead, make the greatest gesture you could for him and you: stand up and cheer – on two good legs.