Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My heart and mind not on U.S. Open...

I realize that my mind should be at Bethpage Black and I should be telling you who is going to win this week’s U.S. Open and why. Sorry, but I can’t get there. My mind is divided right now and one place it isn’t is Bethpage Black.
You see my mind is in a hospital room in Jackson, Miss., and a home in San Diego and my heart is split between the two.
You’ve probably read, or heard about the tragic car accident that befell golfer Ken Green. His RV plunged off the side of a highway in Mississippi following a front tire blowout and plunged 20-something feet before crashing into a tree. The crash killed Green’s brother and his girlfriend as well as Ken’s German shepherd, Nip. It also left Green with a right leg so mangled that it had to be amputated. His right orbital bone is so smashed that extensive surgery is required to reconstruct it and there’s a deep gash on the side of his head that is described as “troublesome.”
His medical charts alone are enough to sicken you. It’s what is not written that is the real tragedy.
You see, Ken Green isn’t your typical 50-year old professional golfer who glided with seamless effort from the PGA Tour to the Champions Tour. Ken Green’s trip to the Champions Tour was through a mine field where demons grabbed for a piece of his very being every step of the way. He was in the abyss of living hell.
After a painful divorce which left him almost penniless, Green had his first bout with the demon that threatened at times to end his life, clinical depression. When you type it or say it, the phrase seems harmless enough. In truth, it’s a cover up for a demon telling you that “I’m going to make you hate yourself so much that you’ll take your own life.”
There was a day when that demon would usually win. Even with all the tremendous steps that have been made in treating this disease, it’s not a case where if you take a pill it will clear up in a day, or two. Quite often it’s two steps ahead and one step or even more back. It takes determination and it takes love from others.
For years, Green lingered in the morass. He lost his golf game that had earned him five PGA Tour victories. He lost his money and he lost friends. Most of all, he lost his mind. Only through sheer guts and determination coupled from love and assistance from his family and friends like his buddy Mark Calcavecchia did he get through.
His game started to come back as did control of his life. Through a lot of help from Calcavecchia, he was able to gain sponsors exemptions into Champions Tour events. When his RV left the road in Mississippi he had won $123,906 in limited action. He had more sponsor exemptions in his pocket and he was on his way to gaining some playing status for the 2010 season. Some think it was more money than he’d made in the entire last decade. Life was getting better and now this.
He’s said through a spokesperson that he’s going to fight back and play again on the Champions Tour with help of a prosthesis. This is a good sign. He’s going to need that spirit to face what lies ahead for him. He’d better walk the straight white line when he’s back on his feet. The demons have his scent and they’ll be after him. I pray they lose again.
Ironically, back in the mid-80s when Green was at his peak, he was asked what would be a mark of success that would tell him that he’d made it?
“If when I die, at the end of the national news broadcast, they flashed my picture and said, ‘Pro golfer Ken Green died today.’ I think that would be great,” he answered.
You’ve made a lot of national broadcasts, Kenny, and you’re still alive. Let’s keep it that way.
Meanwhile, on the west coast sits, by all accounts, just a great lady. If she wasn’t so humble and down to earth, she might be the target of every catty remark made around golf. She has it all. She’s bright, beautiful, wealthy, has great healthy children and a husband who truly loves her. Yes, one would think, she has everything.
A few weeks ago she received news that she has even more. Amy Mickelson has breast cancer. I don’t know where the shock came from. Unfortunately, I know people and families who have been devastated by this despicable disease, but it wasn’t supposed to happen to her.
To his credit, Phil immediately cut short his playing schedule, taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from the PGA Tour. This came as no surprise because in the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, he left his cell phone on during play because Amy was due to have a baby at anytime. Phil swore he’d walk off the course immediately if the call came that Amy was in labor. Looking out for her man, Amy didn’t go into labor until the following day, so Phil finished second in a battle with Payne Stewart at Pinehurst.
Phil returned to the Tour last week at Amy’s insistence and he’s in the field at Bethpage some 3,000 miles away. He says the four to five hours he spends between the ropes gives him an opportunity to think about something other than his wife’s disease.
I’m sure that playing is cathartic for Phil, but I wonder what it will be like for him starting Thursday on his first tee. Back in 2002 at Bethpage, the vaunted, tough New York fans adopted him as their hero. It was a different time back then. New York was still recovering from the shock of 9/11. They needed their own hero. Tiger belonged to the world. Phil belonged to New York.
I hope Phil understands that all the pink shirts, hats, visors and pants being worn in what is predicted to be a huge gallery following him isn’t just New York having a bad clothes day. It will be a transference of energy through him to Amy telling them both that New York and the world for that matter is praying for her and to a lesser degree him as well to help see them through what could be difficult days to come.
Some have offered in print that it would be great if Phil could win this week. I have to believe that Phil would gladly give up all wins past and future if Amy could win her battle with cancer.
Bartender, take the rest of the day off. I’m just not in the mood if you know what I mean.

See you on the first tee,