By Pete Iacobelli/The Associated Press
SAVANNAH, Ga. — It seemed a silly worry, especially after all Ken Green has faced in the past year. Still, Green couldn’t escape the fear he would embarrass the sport he loved with his poor play.
His fellow competitors at the Legends of Golf quickly put that to rest this week.
“Every one of them has said, ‘It’s just great that you’re out here and playing,'” Green said. “You’re fighting the fight. Just go out and just do it.”
Green took his first strides back to the game Wednesday in a Champions Tour’ pro-am, and he’ll get himself between the ropes again when he partners with Mike Reid in the tournament’s main team flight, starting Friday.
“To see the reservoirs of strength that he’s had to draw from since a year ago to now,” Reid said. “It lifts all of us.”
Green lost part of his lower right leg last June following an auto accident in Mississippi that took the life of his brother, his longtime girlfriend and his dog.
Then when the PGA Tour’s former No. 1 thorn was starting to recuperate physically and mentally, Green’s 21-year-old son, Hunter, was discovered dead in his SMU dorm room last January. An autopsy said Hunter died from a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.
“It was a brutal hit to the body and brain,” Ken Green said.
Not even Green understands how he pressed on to this week.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you, how I managed to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to still keep fighting the fight and go out there and try and play golf.'”
But there was Green, joking with his pro-am partners in a mock gripe about a lack of respect as one sailed a drive past Green’s ball on the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort.
There’s been little for Green to laugh at since that horrific crash.
Green was riding with his brother Billy, his girlfriend Jeannie Hodgin, and his dog Nip on June 8, when the RV his brother drove blew a tire and went off Interstate 20 near Hickory, Miss., hitting a tree.
Green doesn’t remember the accident, something he’s grateful for.
“It must have been an awful … I don’t know from how long it took from when the tire blew to when we went screaming into the tree,” Green said. “It couldn’t have been ….. I’m very, very glad that I don’t remember.”
Doctors said they might be able to save his leg, although it would never again function properly. Green chose to amputate, believing that would give him the best chance to play again.
Green looked like most every other Champions Tour pro, greeting his partners with a smile and a “Let’s play” attitude.
Green’s lower right leg prosthetic was barely visible beneath his pants cuff. The leg stays anchored to the ground during his swing until Green lifts it at the very end.
He frets over lost power, estimating his drives now fly only about 240 or so. Green worked with his longtime teacher, TV analyst Peter Kostis, last week on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on changes designed to put his right side in control and add to his distance.
“We’re making some changes that are totally foreign to me, complete opposite,” he said.
Those he’s lost rarely disappear from his thoughts. Before each round, he’ll mark his ball with “Nip” in remembrance of his beloved pet.
“It sounds crazy, but my dog meant as much as anything,” he said.
Green hasn’t totally surrendered his role as golf critic. He didn’t agree with a Champions Tour ruling recently that denied him a major medical exemption to play, chiding that he didn’t want to push things since Tour leaders don’t change their “mind too often,” he said.
Green’s partner, Reid, said he’d been planning for their pairing almost since the time of the accident. Reid sent his friend a text, “We can beat most of these teams on three legs, so get your game ready.”
Green’s unsure it is, but is willing to let things fly this week. He’d like to compete in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, a 54-hole event in Endicott, N.Y., in June and hopefully add to his schedule as his progress continues.
Green hopes he can have a little fun and show himself and others that he can still play the game.
“Because I don’t know how many times,” he says, “I’m going to get to do this again.”