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To contribute to the Ranken Jordan junior golf program or to ask any questions please e-mail me at This blog is not affiliated with Ranken Jordan. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not those of Ranken Jordan. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Turning "Poo" Into Roses

 "Golf is a good walk spoiled." --Mark Twain

"They call it golf because all the other four letter words were taken." --Ray Floyd

"I hate this game and I can't wait to play again tomorrow." --Jeff Sluman

As the quotes and picture above allude to, golf can at times be an incredibly frustrating game.  Anyone who has played can attest to that!  However as frustrating as the game can be, it provides an endless amount of enjoyment and satisfaction that at times can be difficult to explain to anyone who has not given the game a try.  The quote below from World Golf Hall of Famer Lee Trevino more accurately describes the feelings most golfers have about the game.

"I'm a golfaholic, no question about that.  Counseling wouldn't help me.  They'd have to put me in prison, and then I'd talk the warden into building a hole or two and teach him how to play." --Lee Trevino

Try as they might and with all the daily miracles they perform, the doctors and therapists at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital have yet to find a way to immunize the kids in our junior golf program to the frustrations golf can bring on.   But it is the kids themselves who have learned that the frustration felt from a perceived bad shot is only a fleeting feeling and can be eliminated by the next swing.  Many of them have also figured out that golf can turn around a bad day and make it into a good day.  This was exactly what happened during one of my recent visits to Ranken Jordan.

The typical routine for me on "Golf Day" at Ranken Jordan is to get there a little bit early to help set up and hit a few shots myself before the kids start arriving.  While hitting a few pitch shots I heard one of our regulars on his way over tell his mom "I feel like poo . . . but I'm going to play golf!"  Feeling that way is completely understandable due to his persistent pain that makes it very difficult to sleep.  Pain, fatigue, and feeling "like poo" did not stop him from grabbing a driver and hitting golf balls for an hour straight!  Sitting in his wheelchair and swinging with one arm from the side he kept ripping driver after driver off the windows in Warner's Corner.  The smile we all know and love quickly returned to his face.  A minor adjustment to his takeaway led to even better contact and the smile continued to grow.  The next thing you know, while he is still pounding away with the driver, we were talking about the Atlanta Braves starting rotation and how big of a mistake they made by letting Tim Hudson leave via free agency the previous winter.

Golf provides a wide variety of benefits for all of the kids who take part in our junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  For some it could be a social or emotional improvement that they experience while for others it becomes an integral part of their therapy program.  There are also many kids who pick up a club for the first time in the hospital and continue playing when they leave.  Then there are the ones like the young man discussed in this post.  For him golf is a combination of all these things and many more.  Golf makes his time in the hospital much more enjoyable, helps him through rough days, is part of his therapy, and has become the game of a lifetime for him.  When this particular clinic came to an end he made a point to say thank you and give me a hug for helping make his day better.  I made sure to tell him thank you as having the honor to count him and his family among the people I consider friends definitely makes my day better.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Wish Fulfilled

Growing the game of golf is a challenge facing everyone involved in our game around the world.  As I have well documented on this blog one of the ways I am trying to grow the game is by exposing the game to a "non-traditional" audience.  So far I would say it has been reasonably successful.  Many of the 2,000+ kids who have picked up a club for the first time at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital have continued to play after going home.  Several staff members (doctors, nurses, therapists, administrators, etc.) have begun playing or started playing more since the inception of the golf program.  But with this particular program growing the game is not necessarily the focal point.  Helping kids get better through their involvement with a sport is the most important part.

This blog post will be shorter than many of the ones I have written but I wanted to share a quick story about a conversation I had with one of our junior golfers prior to him going home.  One of my favorite stories to tell about the program involves a young man named Dakota.  He was always one of our "regulars" and made it a point to practice as often as possible.  Dakota's initial impression of golf was that it was "stupid and boring."  Rather than retell the entire story of that first meeting, please click HERE to read a past post that details it.

When I was at Ranken Jordan a couple of weeks ago Dakota told me the great news that he would be going home soon!  Later on that morning he pulled me aside and said he needed to ask my a question.  Through golf Dakota and I developed a good friendship so I had no idea what he was going to ask me!  He got a serious look on his face and asked if there was anyway I could get him a golf club to take home with him.  I told him I would do my best to find something for him to take home.  Fast forward a week and it was time for Dakota to go home.  However I had to give him the bad news that he wouldn't have a golf club to take home.  Instead he would have a brand new full set of U.S. Kids golf clubs!

This is just one of many examples of how important golf has become to many of the kids at Ranken Jordan.  There are times like this when the growth of the game impact is easily quantifiable.  However what is far more important to me is seeing the improvement in the lives of these kids because they have had the opportunity to pick up a golf club.  The smile Dakota had on his face when he saw his new golf clubs is something I will never forget.  Have fun with them, Dakota, and don't break any windows!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kids Say the Darndest Things

According to Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby, "kids say the darndest things."  Spend enough time around kids and it is anybody's guess what you may hear.  Many times the comments they make will have everybody around them laughing uncontrollably.  Other times the sweetness and sincerity in their words can bring tears to your eyes.  And occasionally you will hear them say something that brings a huge smile to your face, leaves you speechless, and provides instant validation for what you are doing.

Over the 3 1/2 years we have been conducting junior golf clinics at Ranken Jordan we have had over 2,000 kids "say some of the darndest things."  One of these instances occurred recently with a new junior golfer.  As is often the case, one of the first things that happened after this young man came to Ranken Jordan was his introduction to the game of golf.  Like many of the kids this was the first time he had ever held a golf club.  Due to the walker he currently uses the length of his backswing was limited.  That did not stop him from boldly stating that "I am going to hit it farther than my daddy!"  We went to work on his swing and quickly had him making consistent contact.  His shots started flying higher, straighter, and farther.  The smile on his face continued to grow bigger with each good shot he hit.  Soon, though, fatigue started to set in and he decided to call it a day.  Before leaving to go back inside he assured me he would practice and be back next week to learn more!

Fast forward a week and "Golf Day" at Ranken Jordan arrived.  True to his word, he was back and I quickly saw that he had been practicing.  The huge smile was still there and his swing was noticeably improved.  We hit shots for a while working on some minor mechanical issues here and there.  When he got tired this week he decided he wanted to learn to putt instead of stopping for the day.  He walked over to a putting green and started rolling a few putts.  With only a couple small changes to his stroke he began putting much better.  A few short minutes later and he made 3 putts in a row!  As soon as the third putt fell into the hole he raised both arms in the air and yelled "I LOVE GOLF" loud enough for everybody in a 5 mile radius to hear him!!  Hearing that left me completely speechless and with an ear-to-ear smile.

Seeing the pure joy and excitement on his face and hearing the same in his voice gave me yet another reminder of why I do what I do at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  Teaching these kids how they can play golf is truly a privilege and something I look forward to every week.  When we get the reaction described in the story above it quickly illustrates how important golf is to these kids and makes me want to do even more for them.  Reactions like this cannot happen often enough.  The mother of one of our junior golfers once commented that our junior golf program "is magic."  From my point of view the truly magical part is seeing what golf can do for these great kids.  While our new junior golfer keeps yelling "I LOVE GOLF" I'll keep asking "is it Golf Day yet?"

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Kids around the United States look forward to summer.  For many of them it means no school, playing all day with friends, family vacations, or summer camps.  But for the kids who have to spend significant portions (or all) of summer in a hospital, summer camp is typically far from their mind.  However, if you happen to be one of the kids at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, you will get your summer camp!

This past week was the second of the week-long summer camps orchestrated by Janine Roe, Community Programs Director at Ranken Jordan.  Each year there is a wide variety of activities and since 2011 golf has been included as one of those activities.  At the camps you will see inpatients, outpatients, day treatment patients, and kids from the community.  All of the activities in the camps encourage interaction between all of the kids.  Nowhere is this more evident than when the kids make their way outside for golf.

On any given weekend morning, spend a little bit of time on any driving range at any golf course in the country, and you will see how inclusive the game of golf can be.  Men, women, and children of all ages, heights, body types, and skill levels are hitting range balls to loosen up before their rounds.  Many foursomes will feature a wide range of scores after the cards have been tallied at the completion of play.  Yet regardless of score, skill level, or age, everyone has the opportunity to play together and compete against each other.

The same situation occurs at Ranken Jordan every year during camp.  Anyone who is there can look down the line of kids hitting golf balls and see kids in wheelchairs, others using walkers, some wearing braces, and several who are completely healthy.  None of this stops any of the kids from grabbing a club and swinging away!  Our group of PGA Professionals and volunteers work with each of the kids and get them hitting the ball as good as possible with the limited time we have to help them.

The camp weeks are some of my favorite times at Ranken Jordan.  These weeks show how inclusive golf can be if given the opportunity.  Social interaction with their peers is one of the many benefits kids receive from being involved in a sport.  These special weeks at Ranken Jordan show that all kids should have the opportunity to learn how to play golf if they choose to.  I have witnessed kids playing and interacting with other kids they may never have even looked at . . . and at the end of the clinic all of them talk about how much fun they had.  Our golf program allows all kids to simply be kids while playing a game.  I sincerely hope that one day we will see similar opportunities and possibilities for kids around the country.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another Marathon for the Kids

A few days ago I completed my third marathon.  No, it was not a 26.2 mile run (that will happen in January).  Instead it was the third annual Gateway PGA Golf Day 100 hole marathon.  With this event, Gateway PGA Professionals play 100 holes of golf in one day while raising money to support local charities.  From the inception of this event it has been one of my favorites and the one event I make certain to play each year.  This year my pace of play was a bit slow as it took me about 6 1/2 hours to finish all 100 holes!  Regardless of how fast or slow I played, this is a wonderful event and one I always look forward to.  Each of the charities that benefit from the efforts of our section's PGA Professionals are special to all of us for a variety of reasons.  We tend to connect with one or two of them and make it a point to raise as much money as possible to help some of our favorite charities.

Shortly after the completion of this year's event on August 15, the funds raised will be distributed to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, Hospice of Southern Illinois, Gateway PGA Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Quincy Area Golf in Schools, and Kids Harbor Child Advocacy Center.  A relatively small group of PGA Professionals participating in one golf event will positively impact thousands of lives throughout large portions of Missouri and Illinois.  I am very proud to be a part of an event that creates such a tremendous amount of good for so many simply by hitting a golf ball a few times.  Want to see how PGA Professionals are improving lives through our game?  Talk to Gideon Smith, PGA, in Quincy, IL, about the number of kids he has introduced to golf through his in school program.  Or contact Paul Leahy, PGA, about the junior golf program at the Lake of the Ozarks.  Maybe you are like me and have had a family member spend the final few days of their life in hospice care.  Simply put, golf is doing great things for thousands of people in the Gateway PGA Section and this event is a big part of why that is possible.

There is one other way that I experience the impact this event has.  Through my involvement at Ranken Jordan I get to be a part of the golf program there and teach some amazing kids how to play golf regardless of the complex medical issue they are fighting.  I mentioned that one of the charities supported by PGA Golf Day is the Gateway PGA Foundation.  Through the generosity of the Foundation, the golf program at Ranken Jordan has not cost the hospital a cent.  All of the equipment has been donated by the Foundation and 100% of the PGA Professionals' time is on a volunteer basis.  This is something I am very, very proud to be able to say.  The golf program at Ranken Jordan is improving the lives of the kids, helping them heal faster, and through PGA Golf Day, we are also donating money each year to the hospital.  There is still time to donate by clicking HERE.

Playing 100 holes of golf in one day may sound like a very daunting task to some.  However I can tell you from experience that it is not as tough as you may think.  Yes I got fatigued while playing and yes I was a bit sore the next day.  Each year the fatigue and soreness is there and as I get older I am sure it will only get worse.  But each year I will proudly be a part of PGA Golf Day as we raise money for all of the great charities.  Why is this?  Because it is a very simple way for me to give back to those who made my mother's final few days as comfortable as possible and it also provides an incredible hospital with a small donation to help very special kids get their lives back.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Constant Inspiration

Golf tournaments are one of the best ways for charitable organizations to raise a significant amount of money in a relatively short period of time.  This has been true for many years and it will be true for many more.  As a PGA Professional I, just like many thousands of my peers, have the opportunity every year to host dozens of these events at our respective golf courses.  We see the hard work that the committees put into organizing a great event and do our part to make sure that the tournament is a success.

Last Monday was the 2014 Ranken Jordan golf tournament and I had the privilege of playing in the event for the third straight year.  Just as with last year's event, I had the good fortune to be part of a group that featured Ranken Jordan's CEO Lauri Tanner and former Ranken Jordan patient Sam Ward.  Each year Sam comes back to play in the tournament and each year everybody is amazed at his golf game.  Well struck drives seemed to always find the short grass and his iron shots regularly gave us a good look at birdie.  I can say with great certainty that our group was very excited that he putts as well as he does!  Golf has played a very significant role in Sam's life (learn more about Sam's story by clicking HERE to watch a short video) just as it has with another former patient, Cooper Burks, who was in the spotlight at this year's tournament.

Cooper came to Ranken Jordan for the first time in 2012.  A self-proclaimed sports nut, when he came to Ranken Jordan for therapy following one of his 17 hip surgeries, Cooper was bummed because he did not think he would be able to play sports.  Of course, when he got there he did not know about the junior golf program.  After his first day of golf Cooper was hooked!  Swinging from his wheelchair Cooper quickly showed that he was a natural!  Swing after swing led to crisp iron shots and launched drivers.  Cooper and his family quickly learned that golf was going to be his sport.

Since that initial introduction to golf Cooper's love for the sport has continued to grow.  While at Ranken Jordan we had him hitting golf balls from his hospital bed, wheelchair, using his walker, and without any aid at all.  After walking out of Ranken Jordan last December and returning home, he kept working on his game and showed off his swing on the driving range before last Monday's tournament.  Everyone who watched Cooper practice was simply amazed by how consistently he hit the ball . . . and by the fact that his ever present smile never left his face.  Ranken Jordan put together a video about Cooper which I highly encourage you to watch by clicking HERE.

Spend any time at all with Cooper and you will quickly realize that his smile never goes away.  You will also learn that he loves sports, Auburn University, and Duck Dynasty.  His incredible attitude and outlook on life make you forget that he is 10 years old.  He comes by it honestly, though.  Anyone who has the opportunity to spend time with his parents and siblings will understand what a special family Cooper is part of.

Stories like this are why I go to Ranken Jordan every week and why I treasure the time I am so fortunate to spend there with the kids.  Having the opportunity to share a game I love with the kids at Ranken Jordan and use it in a way to positively impact their lives is simply incredible.  Most of the time they think that I am teaching them something when in reality they are the ones doling out the lessons to me.  On multiple occasions, during conversations, via e-mail, or in text messages, Cooper and his family have told me "thank you" for what I have done for them.  In fact I should be the one thanking them for allowing me to be a part of his journey.  Cooper is a never-ending source of inspiration and someday, when I finally grow up, I hope to be just like him.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Get Up, Stand Up

This morning before leaving to go to Ranken Jordan for our weekly golf clinic I wrote a Tweet that said, "Every week this is my favorite day to play golf . . . Golf Day at Ranken Jordan with the kids!"  Little did I know at the time just how true that statement would be this week.  Without a doubt, each week the highlight for me is getting to spend time with the kids, teach them a few things about golf, and put a smile on their faces.  Just like at any golf course we have our regulars who refuse to miss golf and we almost always have a new kid or two.  This week was no exception as we welcomed a new girl who had never touched a golf club in her life.  That was about to change.

As we were gathering outside on an atypically cool summer day in St. Louis, one of the therapists brought out a young lady who had been recently admitted to Ranken Jordan.  She is in the early stages of her rehabilitation so she came to golf in her wheelchair.  While I talked to her I learned that she had never picked up a golf club nor had she ever given any thought to learning how to play golf.  While she watched three of the boys, two in wheelchairs and one standing, rip driver after driver she decided she would like to try.  I got the right length club for her, grabbed some golf balls, and we set to work teaching her the basics of swinging from her wheelchair.

There was some initial hesitation and after a few tentative swings she asked me for more help in hitting those first few shots.  We did hand-over-hand for a few to let her really get the feel of making a golf swing.  A few solid shots was all it took for a smile to cover her face.  I stepped back and let her start hitting by herself and away she went!  However, after only a few more swings she stopped and dropped her golf club on the ground.  I thought something may be wrong until she looked up at me and said, "I want to stand up and hit golf balls!"

We got the OK from one of the therapists and very soon there was a walker there for her to use for balance while she hit.  A couple of swings in the walker was all it took for her to realize she didn't need or want it, either!  We moved it out of the way, adjusted her grip just slightly, and the next thing you know ball after ball was being hit high, straight, and far!  The more golf balls she hit the bigger her smile became.  She even looked at me at one point and said she was glad she came out to learn how to play golf!  I am sure we will see her back next week and am quite certain the therapists will be getting the golf clubs out for her before then.

For many of the kids at Ranken Jordan, golf has become an important part of their weekly activities and lives.  It gives them something to look forward to each week.  The game has also been implemented into the rehab program for many of the kids.  While they are playing they are healing at the same time.  Seeing the role the golf program plays in the physical and mental improvements in the kids is a big part of why I go to the hospital at least once every week.  And then when something like this happens, let's just say you couldn't keep me away from there!