His first steps weren’t cautious, they were taken with confidence.His first exercises weren’t exhausting, they were exhilarating. So much so, that when the patient wanted to do more, the therapist agreed.
At the end of the first day with his new prosthetic, Ken Green felt like a new man. A man with a mission and a driving passion to succeed in that mission.
For the past two months, Green has slowly but surely started to put the pieces of his shattered life back together. On June 8, Green, his brother Billy; his girlfriend, Jeannie Hodgin; and his dog, Nip, were driving east across Mississippi toward Florida on Interstate 20 in Green’s recreation vehicle after he had finished playing the Champions Tour Triton Financial Classic in Austin, Texas, where he earned $8,480.
Near Hickory, Miss., the RV’s right front tire blew, sending the vehicle down an embankment and into a tree. Billy, Jeannie and Nip were killed. Green, who remembers being in the back of the RV, suffered serious injuries, one of which eventually forced the amputation of his right leg below the knee.
Now, the Danbury native, who grew up honing his golf game on the fairways at Ridgewood Country Club and Richter Park, is in the process of making the greatest comeback in the history of golf. Green wants to become the first person to play professionally with a prosthetic, and on Aug.12, in the office of his therapist, Stan Patterson, Green took his first steps toward accomplishing that goal.
“It was a little weird. How else can you describe it? You go from an everyday normal walker to nothing,” Green said via cell phone in his first public comments since before the accident. “He [the therapist] says it’s going to take countless different times of fiddling and readjusting everything. In the first three months your leg changes so much that literally I’ll have a new prosthetic every couple of weeks.”
But so far, so good.
Just a day after taking those first steps, Green took his first swings with a golf club. He says that he’s hoping to be able to play — from the white tees — on Sept. 28, when Ridgewood hosts a charity event called “The Friends of Green.” Longtime PGA friends Mark Calcavecchia and Curtis Strange are playing in the event and the organizers, Michael Goodman, Gary Michael and Greg Begler, are expecting even more pros to turn out.
The event, which has already sold out, is expected to raise more than $100,000 for the Ken Green Living Expense Trust.
“What they have done is absolutely phenomenal. You know, it’s “¦ you just never know until something of this magnitude hits what people have done for me. Every time I think about it I get goose bumps,” Green said.
Getting back on track
Green had played in 11 Champions Tour events, including the Triton Financial Classic, cashing checks in 10 of them. In the AT&T Champions Classic in March, he finished seventh, winning $57,600. It was his first top 10 finish in any event — PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Nationwide Tour — since he finished tied for third place at the Nationwide BMW Charity Pro-Am event in April 2002. And the $57,600 was the biggest single check he’d cashed since earning $66,294.67 at the 1996 U.S. Open.
The back story of Green’s career has been well-documented. In the mid- to late-1980s, Green was perhaps one of the best golfers on the PGA Tour. He certainly was one of the most outspoken and headstrong. He had a go-for-broke style that earned him five Tour wins and in 1989 made him a member of the Ryder Cup team. But in the early ’90s, a bitter and messy divorce left Green’s game, and his mental state, in shambles. Add to that, Green’s back started bothering him to the point where he could barely swing the club.
Still, he kept playing. But instead of seeing dollar amounts next to his name in the results column, for the most part all you saw were “MC” (missed cuts) and/or “W/D” (withdrawals) next to his name. He lost his playing card in 2000 and tried to make ends meet by playing on the Nationwide and the PGA tours through past champion status or a sponsor’s exemption.
How bad was it? Between 2005 and ’08, Green didn’t make a dime.
But in July 2008, as soon as Green turned 50, a new dawn beckoned. He joined the Champions Tour, where he could ride in a cart to ease the stress on his back, and play a much more relaxed (but still competitive) brand of golf. He played in seven events, made $22,911 and looked ahead to 2009 with the excitement of a boy going on a date with the prettiest girl in school.
And through those first 11 events, Green had been playing a lot like the Green of old.
“I was pretty happy. I had struggled early with panic and demons and what-not. But after that, I pretty much had everything under control. I could see the game coming. It was just a matter of when, the way I was looking at it,” he said. “Something was going to happen and it was going to be good. I was excited. Obviously, the money “¦ I knew I had money to go for the rest of the year. I can honestly say at the beginning of the year I was going week to week, so that was a tremendous relief. I was just playing more comfortable and was starting to play a little better. It was going to get better. There was no doubt in my mind it was getting better.”
So much so that he even told Billy at one point before the Triton Financial Classic that he felt it was like old times again.
After the Triton Financial Classic, the Champions Tour had the next two weeks off before the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open on June 26-28 in Endicott, N.Y. So, Green, Billy, Jeannie and Nip were heading to Jeannie’s house in North Carolina to relax for a while before heading to New York. That Sunday after the tournament ended in Austin, the group stopped for the night at the Horseshoe Casino in Shreveport, La., because Green knew the place had a lot of parking spaces for the RV.
The next morning, Ken and Billy went inside the Horseshoe.
“I literally gambled for like 15 minutes and I just didn’t have any urge. I told Billy ‘Let’s go’ and he looked at me, like ‘what?’ He was like in shock,” Green said. “So, we bought a boatload of T-shirts for people and we got in the RV.”
With Bill behind the wheel, the RV got back on I-20 and headed east.
“I remember us leaving ” Green said. “I don’t remember anything else. The next thing I knew I woke up and I saw my sister’s [Shelly] face and had no clue what was going on.”
According to the Associated Press story, the RV’s right front tire blew out, the vehicle “ran off the road and down an embankment before hitting a large oak tree.” The front of the vehicle, the story said, “was totally demolished.”
Green was airlifted to the University Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., with an injured left eye orbital fracture and a severe right leg injury. Green’s sister, Shelly, and her husband, PGA Rules Official Slugger White, along with close friend Kevin Richardson, all rushed to Green’s side. At first, doctors thought that they might be able to save the leg, but, at best, Green faced two years of surgeries and rehabilitation and doctors could not guarantee that the ankle or foot would ever work properly.
A week after the accident, Green had his lower right leg amputated.
For the past two months and after several surgeries to control the infection in his leg, Green has been working — both mentally and physically — to get his life back in order. He is recovering at Shelly’s home in Ormond Beach, Fla., going to prosthetic therapy four days a week, doing what he can.
After taking his first steps last Thursday with the prosthetic leg, Green took some easy golf swings the next day. He wants to keep working as hard as the therapists will let him.
“The bottom line will be how the leg handles me walking. It was pretty good that first day. I didn’t have a whole lot of pain. I mean, you’re going to have pain, it’s pretty much been my best friend lately, so that part doesn’t bother me,” Green said. “That was a huge success. He [the therapist] let me do things today that he wasn’t going to but when he saw that I was kind of jumping through the [rehab] steps, he let me do some more stuff, so I’m excited about that.”
Starting to move forward physically, Green is also trying to move forward mentally. The thoughts of his brother, Billy, girlfriend Jeannie, and dog Nip will forever be with him, but he feels that God spared him for a reason.
“Well, the way I’ve looked at this is, I have a pretty good faith in God and my belief is that if you believe in God you shouldn’t be too upset over the fact that you’ve lost three of your best friends on the planet. They’re having a hell of a lot more fun right now that I am, I can tell you that,” Green said. “I know that He’s kept me breathing because I have to do something. One, I have to go figure that out, and, two, I have to go do it. That’s pretty much all I’m thinking about.
“I’m assuming that it’s through golf that I have to go out and try to accomplish some things that haven’t been done and make people aware of certain things. So, in that sense, it’s given me a desire and a motivation to do it and I have to it. And as far as I’m concerned, if I don’t do it, it’s a complete failure.”
So Green bears the pain as best he can and continues to work as hard as he can to accomplish those goals. For Billy. For Jeannie. And for Nip.
“We’re moving along. The body’s healing. The brain “¦ you know, that’s always questionable,” he said, jokingly. “I’ve handled the losses as well as you can handle them, I think. I’m pretty excited, to be honest with you, about what I have to do next.”
He’s already taken the first steps.
Please click here to see a slideshow of Ken’s amazing progress