3-5-10: Yahoo! Sports Article on KG’s Life Battles
March 5, 2010: “Living His Life Where It Lies”
By Michael Arkush, Editor, Yahoo! Sports
Don’t ask Ken Green to make any sense of it. He can’t. Nobody could.
He lost his girlfriend, his older brother, the precious dog who once saved his life, and portions of his right leg in an RV accident last June and then, seven months later, his 21-year-old son to a cause still unknown.
Fate didn’t deal him a blow. Fate unleashed all its might.
“If they were to ever do a movie,” Green, 51, said on the phone this week from his rented house in West Palm Beach, Florida, “people would say, ‘That’s baloney.’ It’s been unbelievable.”
Unbelievable doesn’t begin to sum it up. No words do, and Green – a longtime PGA Tour pro – doesn’t seem interested in words anyway. Words will not bring their lives back. Or his.
His new life is defined by constant pain, physical and emotional. On the physical side, the feeling he receives in the stump below his right knee compares, he says, to the shock one gets from touching an electrical outlet – except the sensation never goes away. Some days are worse than others, the agony almost unbearable.
“All you can do is cry,” Green said.
As for his grief, where does he start? Where does he end? How can it ever end?
And it’s not as if Green hadn’t been through his share of troubles before June. He has been through more than his share, and they are to blame for derailing a solid career in which he won 5 tournaments and played in the 1989 Ryder Cup. In 1996, he tied for 7th in the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.
Green had plenty of game. Nobody ever doubted that.
But his toughest opponent, diagnosed in 1998, was depression, and it was kicking his butt. For three years during the 1990s, Green, who was divorced twice, thought every day about killing himself.
In 1999, he finally tried, swallowing a “gazillion” pills which knocked him out. He would have succeeded if not for his alert dog, Nip, who awakened Green’s girlfriend at the time. Green woke up in the hospital 36 hours later.
The depression came under control, thanks to medication, but the golf demons did not. They had been stalking him for years, whispering into his ear at the worst possible moments: “You’re going to miss this shot.”
Which he did. He missed a ton of them. Every golfer, even the best in the world, is paid a visit at one point or another by these same demons. Only Green’s demons stuck around – for good, it seemed.
That’s what makes the tragedies over the past nine months more heartbreaking, if that’s even possible. Green was happier than he had been in a long time – with his life and his game. A rookie on the Champions Tour, the potentially life-altering mulligan for golfers 50 and older, Green was playing like his old, unpossessed self.
But on June 8, 2009, everything changed. Forever.
A day after tying for 37th at an event in Austin, Texas, Green was on Interstate 20 in the back seat of his 40-foot motor home, driven by his brother, Billy, 57, who also was his caddie. They were on their way to Louisiana for the night, then planned to spend a week at the North Carolina home of Green’s girlfriend, Jeannie Hodgin.
Near the town of Hickory, Mississippi, the RV careened down an embankment and struck an oak tree. Dead at the scene were Billy, Jeannie and Nip, the dog who saved Ken’s life. Ken Green went through the windshield, fracturing a bone in his left eye, and tore ligaments in his left ankle. But the right leg got the worst of it. One week later, it was amputated below the knee. In 30 days, he underwent 7 operations.
And yet, from the start of his recuperation, Green did not give up on his belief that somehow he would play golf again – and at the highest level.
Green was fitted with a prosthetic lower leg. Fortunately, because he wisely enrolled only six weeks beforehand in the PGA Tour’s health plan, many of his medical expenses have been covered. Given his financial difficulties, if he hadn’t been on the plan, he admits: “I have no idea where I’d be.”
Becoming an elite golfer again, however, may take nothing less than a miracle.
Green has already shot a 68, at his home course, the Breakers, but that was from the white tees, which measure only about 6,500 yards. He’s driving it roughly 240 these days, and says he’ll need another 15 or 20 yards to compete on the Champions Tour. There are some shots, though, from sidehill or uphill lies, which Green, who plays twice a week, simply cannot pull off – and may never be able to properly execute.
Doctors told him that his left ankle, which still has ligament and tendon damage, may never fully heal. Green needs the ankle to be at least 80% for him to play golf competitively, and it’s nowhere close.
He has trouble with bunkers – not with getting the ball out but getting himself out.
Green knows what the odds are, but they don’t scare him. What scares him is how he might feel if he doesn’t make it back to the Champions Tour. It would be another loss to add to all the others. “It would be devastating,” he said.
Nothing, however, could possibly match the loss of his son, Hunter, who was found dead in his dorm room on the Southern Methodist campus in January. Green expects to receive the autopsy results any day. A part of him doesn’t want to know if the death was accidental or if Hunter, who had some trouble with the law, took his own life. Father and son, after many years apart because of the breakup of Green’s first marriage, were becoming reacquainted. They played golf every few months, and texted each other frequently. “He realized I was not the evil person he was led to believe,” Green said.
Over the years, people have been led to believe a lot of things about Green.
He was known as a true rebel on the PGA Tour, incurring fines for a long list of antics which included sneaking friends into the Masters in the trunk of his car; drinking beer on the 15th hole at Augusta National while paired with his hero, Arnold Palmer; and criticizing officials. Green accepts responsibility for some of his bad-boy behavior but contends he was often unfairly singled out. “I’ve always spoken from my heart,” he explained.
No matter. Green, who lives with another son, 28-year-old Ken Jr., isn’t worried about the past. It is complicated and painful, and it is over.
The future is what he’s focusing on – the chance that maybe there’s another, better fate awaiting him. “I’m assuming there’s a reason for this happening,” Green said. “I have no idea what it is. I think it’s too much for me to handle at the moment, but I’m working on it.”