'Walk away and smile'

Almost two years after the horrific RV accident that cost Ken Green his lower right leg, he is still hopeful of making a living at golf. He wants to prove that he can still play, that he won’t be beaten down by adversity.


Ken Green wants nothing more than to play well in one final event, he says, so he "could walk away and smile." (Getty Images)

By Rusty Miller, Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—There are still times when it feels as if electrodes are hooked to what remains of Ken Green’s right leg.

The nerves in the lower leg he lost in a tragic accident jangle, buzz and hurt.

“I call it being Tasered almost -- it’s a constant lower level of Taser and then it gets nasty,” Green said Wednesday, a day before teeing it up in the opening round of the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid at Valhalla. “And so, it’s been quite a journey.”

The 52-year-old Green, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, was driving on June 8, 2009, when his RV blew a tire and went out of control down an embankment, ramming into an oak tree. His longtime girlfriend, Jean Marie Hodgin, his brother William and even his beloved German shepherd, Nip, all were killed.

Green’s lower right leg had to be amputated. Months of rehab followed. He now wears a prosthetic.

Yet he is still hopeful of making a living at golf. He entered three Champions Tour events a year ago and made the cut in one. Now he wants to prove that he can still play, that he won’t be beaten down by so much adversity.

“I can’t tell you how bad I want to play one good tournament, and what I mean by that is if I were to finish in the top 20 in any Champions Tour event,” he said. “I could walk away and smile.”

There have not been many smiles lately.

His 21-year-old son Hunter was found dead in his SMU dorm room in January 2010. The death was deemed an accident, due to a lethal mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs.

Green, beset by depression and mental problems during his career on the regular tour, says he’s driven to keep playing by the memory of those he’s lost and also by all those he meets -- particularly in the military -- who have lost limbs.

“They use golf as a therapy to get them reinvolved,” he says, marveling at their resilience.

He wants each private golf club to admit four wounded veterans. The clubs, he said, would benefit from such a patriotic gesture. And golf would help the veterans adjust to their changed lives.

The pain in his right leg has prevented Green from practicing as much as he would like and as much as he should to maintain his game. But that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t dream.

“That’s the great thing about competition and golf -- it comes flying back at you. Your brain still says, ‘You’re good. You can still win,”’ said Green, who will ride in a cart during the tournament. “There’s a part of me that still says that I can pull off a win some day.”

Even if he doesn’t, it means a lot to him to know that others are pulling for him. He encounters fans who aren’t aware of the accident, who don’t know about what he’s been through. A man who was never patient before finds himself explaining it all once again to them.

“It’s a unique story,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s a good story because good things didn’t happen. But I have to turn it into a good story. That’s what you do when bad things happen.”