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Green Makes Remarkable Comeback


Ken Green was back in action over the weekend in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, a 54-hole Champions Tour two-man, best-ball competition at The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort and Spa in Savannah, Ga.

Green, paired with his good friend Mike Reid, had a rocky start on Friday with back-to-back bogeys, but then acquitted himself well. With rounds of 67, 66, 71, he and Reid finished at 12-under 204, 16 shots behind winners Mark O'Meara and Nick Price.

Green became the first golfer with a prosthetic leg to ever to compete in a tour event. More importantly, his participation helped give Green some solace after a year that's been very painful - emotionally and physically.

Last June, while driving to a tournament on the Champions Tour, Green's RV veered off the road in Mississippi. The accident killed his brother Bill, his longtime girlfriend Jeannie Hodgin, and beloved pet dog Nip, and left him with injuries so severe that he decided to have the lower part of his leg amputated in the off-chance that he could resume playing competitive golf. (He had the names of the deceased on the left side of the golf shoe on his prostethic leg, and on the right had written "Shelley," for his sister Shelley White, who caddied for him this week.) Making matters much worse, his 21-year-old son Hunter was found dead in his SMU dorm room in January after an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that Green stepped on to the first tee in Savannah Friday. "I was petrified," Green said after his first round. "I was scared that I was going to embarrass golf and myself."

After shaking off the cobwebs through eight holes, his game gradually improved. When another drive went left on the ninth, Green hit a 6-iron through the wind from a tough lie. The ball landed softly on the green, 15 feet from the hole. "I was petrified. I was scared that I was going to embarrass golf and myself. There was too much anxiety," Green said of the first eight holes. "I needed one shot to get me from an anxiety level of 10 down to 7, which I could work with. That was the shot I needed."

Green received lots of encouragement from his playing partners, who just happened to end up winning the tournament (it would be O'Meara's first victory on the Champions Tour).

"To be honest, and he'll probably admit it, he was a little apprehensive the front nine," Price said. "First four or five holes, I think he felt a little nervous and certainly looked like it. But we were pulling hard for him. To see the way he played the back nine - he was probably two or three under on his own ball with the exception of No. 13, which he bogeyed. He hit some beautiful iron shots, so it's fun to see - you know, our heart goes out to him, obviously. We're just happy to see him back out playing."

Green had a goal of making two birdies in his first round back, and he was able to do that, generating a loud response from the gallery each time. "That was something," Green said of the cheers that erupted over his birdie putts at the 11th hole and 15th.

Green said on Friday that he hopes his playing in professional golf tournaments will serve as inspiration for the physically challenged and those who've endured serious hardships. "I haven't been known for inspiring people throughout my career," he said. "But I've got a chance to do something good for people, something important in golf, and for people who are disabled, and people who have had accidents."

Green isn't done. He's thinking about playing in next week's Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at the Tom Fazio-designed Fallen Oak, and also wants to play the 54-hole Dick's Sporting Goods Classic in Endicott, N.Y.

At the end of his round Sunday, Green and his partner Reid sat down with reporters and discussed their tournament.

MODERATOR: Well, Ken and Mike, appreciate you coming in. I know some people would like to ask you some questions. Ken, maybe you can get us started, just kind of sum up the three days and just how you feel after coming back after the layoff.

KEN GREEN: Yeah, if I start talking about it, I'm probably going to end up bawling, so I'm trying to say the right things without losing it. But I don't know if I could possibly express what this has done for me personally in terms of getting hope again for -- and I hate to say this, but getting hope for life. You know, obviously there's tons in life besides golf, but golf is what I am using to try to push me forward without losing it. And you know, for Mike to give this week for me was something I'll never ever forget. You know, he's playing so well, and you know, if he had, you know, another player that wasn't, quote, in the midst of trying to regroup, you know, that's just something that's wonderful. So playing again is so exciting, and now I've just gotta hopefully be able to work on these changes and come back and hope that next time I come back that Mike will only have to give me 3 and 3 instead of 7 and 7.

MODERATOR: Mike.

MIKE REID: It was an honor to be partnered with Ken this week, and he made a lot of progress this week I thought. I was very impressed with how efficiently he could get the club on the ball. But I think I underestimated maybe how much he loves the game because for him to be here and from my perspective seeing not only the awkwardness, but the pain he had to deal with this week, it's just a measure of how much he loves the game. And I think he inspired all of us, but I had the best seat in the house, and you know, he was not a load, believe me. I mean he was hitting a lot of good shots, great short game. I was really impressed. Have you been working on that shot?

MODERATOR: No. No. I'm winging it, no doubt.

MIKE REID: You know, golf is made up at this level, I think there are a thousand thoughts and feels you have, and I just can't imagine what it would be like just to try to invent the swing on every hole. Maybe that's what you guys do every time you play (laughs), but you know, when you make a living at this game, you sort of like to think that you have an idea where the ball's going to go. And you know, this thought, this feel last week and this works on that and the left-to-right wind and this is the shift I make and the stuff I do, but to have all of that erased, which in effect is what has to have happened and to reinvent everything on the fly and get out there and do what he did this week is, you know, I just think it's not going to register as a win in the tournament, but it's a win. This is, you know, it was just a great honor.

MODERATOR: If you have a question, just raise your hand. We have mics here. We're doing a transcript on this.

Q. How much pain were you in in terms that we could understand?

KEN GREEN: You know, I don't want to sit there and -- you know, I mean there was -- you know, there was some rough stretches, and I can honestly tell you it's a feeling that I wouldn't want to give to even my ex-wife. It's just -- it's a bizarre pain. It just -- it comes and it whacks you and it hits and then you're, whew -- but you know, that's my life right now, and you know, for another year or so, that's probably what it's going to be. You know, we've done everything we can to try to settle the nerves down, but there's not a whole lot left unless you just want to stay on morphine, so that's just the way it is.

Q. So it's just a matter of time?

KEN GREEN: That's what I've been told, it's probably going to take -- the nerves will settle down. When you put -- obviously day after day what I've done puts a lot of stress on it and it just -- it acts up, you know. And that's -- it sucks. I mean there's just no other way around it.

Q. I'm sure you guys are looking forward to the day when you're brought into the media center for winning the tournament, which will be maybe next year?

KEN GREEN: Well, I mean I -- my goal is to get a hell of a lot better, and you know, I would never -- you know, it's an awkward situation because I don't -- you know, we'll see how I'm doing. I don't want to -- this time around I'm honored that Mike would do it, but I would never do it again unless I can really play. I won't do that to anyone.

MIKE REID: Yeah, but you're not far off.

KEN GREEN: No, you know, I think you're right. I gotta be able to go out there on a daily basis and do a little. I can't hit a whole lot, but I literally have done nothing, you know, and it was -- you know, when I was starting to try to do something, you know, the Hunter thing hit, and you know, that takes a lot of steam out of you, but I'm getting ready to get back to starting to go back out there, and you know, create some dreams and some lives.

Q. As your story has gotten out, have you heard from some really special people who have contacted you, from any walk of life?

KEN GREEN: Well, you know, some of the emails I've gotten are pretty emotional, and you know, they come out of nowhere. And you know, just different stories of what other people have gone through, and then they read mine, and it kind of gives them that boost of energy, that hope that, you know, you can fight through some of the tragedies that happen in life. You know, they happen, unfortunately, and I happen to be, you know, part of the -- you know, that small group that hits that unwilling bizarre stretch.

Q. Ken, I think I heard that you shot 1-under on your own ball Friday, first round back. I mean did you surprise yourself a little doing that, and how great did those nine holes feel?

KEN GREEN: Well, that nine holes felt really unbelievable that, you know, I actually almost hit really quality shots, just like the three guys I was playing with.

MIKE REID: Make sure you make note that I did outdrive O'Meara. (Laughs).

KEN GREEN: But it's -- you know, that's what, you know, it's those kind of shots that make you realize, hey, this dream is attainable. You know, if the nerve issue can settle down and I can go hit some balls and learn the new changes that Peter wants me to do, I can do it. You know, I have more desire and fight than I've had in, you know, 30 years. I want -- I can't tell you how desperately I want to do this, and I'm going to -- I'm just going to just -- I mean there's just no other way around it. I have got to fight this. There's something that tells me I have to do this. So I'm -- that's my goal.

Q. Sounds like there's much more at stake than playing good golf, though.

KEN GREEN: Well, for me, maybe it is, and maybe I'm putting too much on it, but you know, I love golf, and you know, I've done some stupid things in golf and we all -- well, Mike doesn't. I don't think he's ever done anything stupid. It's just a thought that I could, you know, kind of give something back that's obviously unusual. It's never happened before, and you know, within that circle or that avenue I'll have that possibility that I can do it. And you know, if it gives others hope and gives them a smile or encouragement, inspiration or whatever words you so desire, it's what's going to keep me going because otherwise, you know, right now I don't -- you know, I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have golf and try to focus in on golf. It just -- that's -- you know, I don't know if that's smart, but you know, because if you have -- at the end of the road -- I don't mind losing the battle at the end of the road if I've given it the good fight because that'll be as much of a win as being able to beat Mike one day heads up, so to speak.

Q. How much did you learn about your game this week? I mean if you'd have sat in here five days ago and said I'm going to finish 12-under and hit quality shots, how much of a mystery was going out there this week?

KEN GREEN: I mean I had no clue what was going to happen in terms of my game, and the emotion that went through me on Friday was -- I was astounded, you know, that it was just -- I was dry mouth all 18 holes. You know, and that usually only happens the last, you know, seven to eight holes when you're trying to win a golf tournament, you know, you start getting dry mouth, or at least I always have. And I had it for 18 holes. So that's the emotion that I was on was pretty unusual because, you know, obviously everything that's happened just, you know, doesn't -- you shake your head and say how -- you know, it's not really possible, but it did and it is.

Q. Ken, I want to clarify one thing.

KEN GREEN: Oh, I spoke something wrong then. Oh, boy.

Q. When you mentioned the nerves, I assume you're talking about the nerve endings at the end of your leg as opposed to the ones between your ears?

KEN GREEN: No. It's definitely the ones in the legs. I can honestly tell you the demons, they're gone. They were gone, right before the accident I had no issues. They haven't even thought about coming back. But man, the only thing I can think of is maybe their main residence is down there in my foot. (Laughs).

Q. Ken, you may have mentioned, but how has the ankle held up now?

KEN GREEN: You know, I mean, you know, it hurts. There's no other way around it. You know, the guys tape it hard, and you know, it makes a huge difference and it helps, but you know, that's just one of the issues of, you know, you gotta have the old time will heal theory. And that's also one of them, and you know, they want you to stay off of it, but when it's the only damn foot you got, it's pretty hard. But just time. That's all. It'll be okay.

Q. You have obviously different size shoes. What's the difference size-wise?

KEN GREEN: I did that because the other one was dragging too much. I couldn't get it through the shot, you know, so I asked the prosthetic to make a smaller one, and he thought it was a brilliant idea and I'm a genius. And it's worked. It's worked wonderful. You know, and I'll actually have another leg that's normal foot, so to speak, you know, when I'm not playing golf.

Q. You'll have a golf leg?

KEN GREEN: This is, quote, the golf leg and my bowling leg. Those are the two. Other than that, I'll wear the other leg, so if I'm going to a ballroom dance or something, I won't look so goofy.

Q. What size shoe do you have on your left?

KEN GREEN: It's a 10 and a 6.

Q. Do you have an ugly bowling shoe that matches?

KEN GREEN: I just wear that -- you guys have seen the dopey sandal thing that I have. I pretty much just wear that thing down. I think I got it at the ladies' department at Target or something. They don't make a whole lot of shoes down there that size foot.

Q. You know, we appreciate both of you coming in so much this week, and it really means a lot, and to Mike's point earlier about us amateurs reinventing our swing on every tee, given that you're operating from a different proficiency level, but all that you've had to relearn with Peter, is there hope for us amateurs that you can relearn some techniques? I mean obviously you're dealing with a much higher level.

KEN GREEN: You don't have a prayer. (Laughs).

Q. Fair enough.

KEN GREEN: No, and I don't mean it in a bad way, but you're either going to have the hand-eye coordination to play the game and go up where my improvement will go boom, boom, boom, boom, and you guys will go boops. That's just high life is in terms of different avenues. Could be intelligence, could be golf, could be art, anything of that nature.

MODERATOR: Any more questions? Thanks, Ken. Thank you, Mike.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.