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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!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Golf & Therapy

It has been over a month since my last blog post.  However that does not mean that golf with the kids at Ranken Jordan has slowed down.  It is just the opposite, in fact.  Since the middle of this past winter the kids have been getting to play and practice two times a week!  Being able to add another "Golf Day" to the schedule is thanks to the generosity and caring nature of some wonderful people who have been volunteering their time to help the kids.  The junior golf program at Ranken Jordan has been successful because of these people.  Without the help and support of volunteers and the Gateway PGA Section we would not have nearly as many success stories as we do.

One of those stories came not too long ago on one of the few days we were able to go outside with the kids.  St. Louis had the wettest May in history and June is not off to a much better start.  Because of all the rain we have had it has been rare that we could take the kids outside.  However one day recently we had a break in the clouds and were able to get out to enjoy the sunshine.  The kids love playing golf when we are inside, but their excitement gets ratcheted up several notches when we go outside.  This was obvious two weeks ago when we wound up having to intermingle golf and therapy.

Each summer Ranken Jordan has multiple summer camps.  Golf is one of the many activities that is always included in these camps.  At one of the camps last summer we introduced golf to a young lady named Addie.  She was instantly addicted to the game and did not want to put the club down.  Fast forward to two weeks ago and Addie was outside with us at Ranken Jordan swinging away.  I could not get the golf balls teed up fast enough for her to hit!  At one point she even set two golf balls side by side on the mat . . . and then proceeded to hit both of them perfectly!  While she was practicing Addie looked at the 3 of us who were there helping and watching and told us "I love golf.  I could do this all day!"

The only problem with her hitting golf balls all day was she had therapy right after golf was over.  A solution for that small issue was quickly discovered.  Addie would hit a few shots and then do one of her exercises.  When she finished that exercise she would go right back to hitting golf balls until it was time for another exercise.  This continued on until she finished her therapy session.  When everything was finished she had been hitting golf balls for an hour and a half!  That entire time she had a smile on her face and had a contagious level of enthusiasm.  There was not one person around during that time who was not enjoying watching Addie hit golf ball after golf ball.  It is days like that when I enjoy helping the kids far more than if I was playing or practicing myself.  To see the look of pure joy and excitement from any of the kids at Ranken Jordan is absolutely priceless.

Hitting a good golf shot or putting up a career low round is always fun.  However I get just as much pleasure out of hearing stories from my students about their improvement.  And when that improvement and excitement is coming from the kids there just is not anything better.  The volunteers and golf professionals who come out every week to help feel the exact same way.  The smiles on the faces of the kids keep everybody coming back.  As I said earlier, the golf program has had so much success because of the help and support from the volunteers, golf professionals, and our Section.  Knowing that golf has helped, and continues to help, thousands of kids makes me smile.  I can not wait to get back there next Wednesday, or as it is known around Ranken Jordan, "Golf Day."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Diez de Mayo

May 10, 2015, happens to be Mother's Day this year.  It is also the final round of the PGA Tour's Players Championship.  For a lot of people it will just be a lazy Sunday to enjoy with family or friends.  At Ranken Jordan, and for those of us involved with the junior golf program there, May 10, 2015, is the 4th anniversary of the first golf clinic.  It sure does not seem like it has been 4 years since we started the program.  The old cliche of "time flies when you're having fun" certainly applies in this case!

There is not a week that goes by when I am not reminded multiple times about why I am so thankful that Janine Roe, and the rest of the staff at Ranken Jordan, believed in this idea when I first brought it to them.  "Care beyond the bedside" is not just a slogan or phrase that is carelessly tossed around at Ranken Jordan.  Every person there believes it and lives it daily as they give children their lives back.  The golf program is just one of many examples seen regularly of this concept.  Not long ago I was working with a young man in a wheelchair who also has limited use of his arms.  Prior to coming to Ranken Jordan he had never touched a golf club and did not know how he could play golf from his wheelchair.  We showed him exactly how he could do it.  That first day he hit golf balls for about 30 minutes.  The following week he went for the entire hour!  Due to the limited use of his arms we help him swing most of the time so he does not fatigue too quickly.  It was during one of these times that I hear him say very softly, "that was awesome."  He followed that good shot with another one and in that same quiet voice he proclaims, "I love playing golf!"

The week following the clinic I just described I was helping another junior golfer named Zyron get ready to practice his swing.  He took a couple of practice swings and we got his pulse-ox machine in the right spot so it would not interfere too much with his follow through.  After that he looked at me and said, "You gotta move so you don't get hit.  Now watch and learn!"  I absolutely loved it!  A few short weeks ago this shy young man picked up a golf club for the first time and barely spoke while he was practicing.  Now he cannot get to golf fast enough and starts doing a little bit of trash talking!  Seeing transformations like these are just one example of how golf is helping these incredible kids on their healing journey.

Stories like these are not uncommon.  For many of the kids the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan is their first experience with golf.  Many of them get that same "bug bite" that all the other golfers have had:  the one that gets them addicted to the game after they hear the click and get the feel of that first well struck golf shot.  I am honored, humbled, thrilled, and a whole host of other emotions, that I can be a small part of creating that addiction.  Because of all the kids, families, staff, and volunteers at Ranken Jordan, May 10 will always hold special meaning for me.  It is always at this time of year that I realize I do not tell those groups of people "thank you" often enough.  Four years of creating smiles, laughter, memories, healing, and new golfers, and we are not slowing down any time soon!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Smiling With Pride

Junior Golfer:  "Am I doing good?"

Me:  "You're doing great!  Every day you practice I see you hitting the ball straighter and farther than the last time."

Junior Golfer:  "That makes me happy!  I'm proud of myself!  You're a golf professional so if you think I'm doing good them I must really be getting better.  I'm so proud of myself right now!  Golf is fun and I really enjoy playing it.  I promise I'm going to work even harder than I have been!  The next time I talk to my mom I am going to tell her how much fun this is."

The above conversation took place between me and one of our junior golfers during one of the recent weekly "Golf Days" at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  While he was taking a break, this young man asked my thoughts about his golf swing & game.  Following this he started asking how he can keep playing golf when he goes home from the hospital.  The smile and excitement he showed was incredible.  A simple game bringing this much joy to a junior golfer makes you wonder why programs like this are not more widespread.

Golf is a healing tool.  I have said it repeatedly on this blog and in conversations about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  It does not matter the age of the person or complexity of medical issues, golf is a healing tool.  Yes, golf can heal physically.  If you do not think so I invite you to Google Zakki Blatt and then get back to me.  Golf also heals mentally and emotionally.  Given the attitude and behavior occasionally seen on golf courses you may not think so, but it happens.  The young man discussed in this post is the perfect example.  The bad day he was having turned into a good day as soon as he had a golf club in his hands.

Spending time at Ranken Jordan at least once a week for almost 4 years has provided me the opportunity to witness countless amazing stories and recoveries.  Some of those have involved golf while others have not.  For those recoveries that have involved golf, I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to watch a child's golf swing improve while their health also improves.  Seeing a child get better physically, mentally, and emotionally while at the same time learning the game of a lifetime is indescribable.  Or, to put it in the words of a certain junior golfer . . . it is fun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Healing While Swinging

"What did you do to him?"

"We haven't seen him in a mood like this in a long time!"

"I don't know what you've done but we need to talk."

Hearing these things following a recent junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital caught me a little bit off guard.  I am sure you can understand why!  Those are not the types of questions and comments you want to have directed towards you when working with children.  Apparently the incredibly intelligent, articulate response I came up with (I was dead silent) or the look of understanding on my face (my chin hit the floor) prompted the nurse to explain a bit more.

It seems that I slightly misconstrued the context of her questions.  OK, maybe I completely and totally misunderstood everything.  The only thing I had correct was that she was referencing a new junior golfer named Michael.  Evidently when Michael went back and checked in with his nurse following golf he was absolutely ecstatic.  All through the hour we spent introducing him to and teaching him how to play golf he was smiling, laughing, and talking.  Apparently he had been a bit down as of late and was struggling with his therapy at times.  He left no doubt how much he enjoyed hitting golf balls for the first time in his life!

Over the past 3 weeks, since he first held a golf club, Michael has been practicing regularly.  He has been working on either his full swing or putting 2-3 days each week!  After that initial introduction to the game and spending some time with him, I was completely shocked the next time I saw him.  Michael was waiting for me in Warner's Corner with his therapist and was anxious to get started.  To say he had improved is one of the biggest understatements I could make!  There is nobody who would have believed that only 7 days prior was the first time he had swung a golf club.  His setup was much improved, his swing stayed on plane, and his tempo was perfect.  I could not believe what I was seeing!  And then there was the smile that never left his face.  That was simply icing on the cake.

Michael has quickly become a "regular" in the weekly golf clinics.  He does not waste an opportunity to pick up a golf club and get in a little practice.  Golf has been woven into his therapy plan so he is getting plenty of practice time!  Those of you who are regular readers know I have several stories about the kids at Ranken Jordan which are my favorite stories to tell.  Michael's story has quickly become one of my favorites.  It is yet another shining example of golf being a physical, mental, and social healing tool.  Every week he keeps getting better and seeing improvement, both with his health and with his golf.  I look forward to seeing him each week, seeing his improvement, and having the opportunity to tell him what an inspiration he is.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hard Work Leads To Smiles

"Hard work pays off."  This is a statement/quote/fact that everybody has heard for as long as they can remember.  It applies to all facets of life be it work, relationships, sports, etc.  Any one who has ever picked up a golf club completely understands how true it is as it relates to golf!  The game is simultaneously immensely rewarding and ridiculously humbling.  At some point during that first awkward day of swinging a golf club virtually every new player hits one on the sweet spot . . . and they are hooked.  Unfortunately for the new golfers many of them think that after that one perfect shot they should hit everything that way.  The next time out they quickly realize that will not be the case and soon learn about the hard work required prior to the pay off.

Some of the hardest workers I have encountered during my career as a PGA Professional are the kids at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  Each and every week they look forward to "Golf Day" and can't wait for the clubs to be brought out.  As I have mentioned many times on this blog, it is not an uncommon occurrence for the kids to ask the therapists to get the golf clubs out at other times during the week so they can practice!  Golf has truly become an integral part of the healing process for many of these amazing medically complex children.  One of the best parts of the junior golf program is when we get to introduce the game for the first time to a new patient at the hospital.

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when a young man named Harley joined us for golf.  Since this was his first time playing golf we started him off rolling a few putts.  Harley is currently not strong enough to grip the putter and make a stroke by himself so we provided a bit of help.  After he hit his first few putts a smile spread across his face.  Before each putt the smile would be replaced by a look of sheer determination.  We all knew it would not be long until putts were going in regularly!  He kept working and working on his putting stroke.  As we do with all the kids, we asked him frequently if he wanted a break.  Harley's response was to sign "more, more!"  Of course we obliged and kept helping him with his putting.

Even though he has only been playing golf a very short time, his hard work has certainly already paid off.  Last week during our golf clinic Harley was once again back at it working on his putting.  I typically bounce around from kid to kid and try to spend a few minutes with each of them.  During one of my times with Harley I was fortunate enough to see his pay off.  A quick tip to help his putting stroke led to one of the best reactions I have ever seen.  After adjusting his grip to allow him to hold onto the putter a bit better Harley drained his first putt!  His look of determination was replaced by one of complete and total joy!  That first made putt opened up everything as more and more putts started falling with greater frequency.  Seeing his reaction to each putt dropping into the hole kept a smile plastered on my face for days.

I have said it fairly often on this blog but I feel it bears repeating.  There is nothing more enjoyable than helping put a smile on the face of a child.  The amount of enjoyment I get from it increases exponentially when that child is in a pediatric hospital.  Playing, smiling, and laughing are helping these incredible kids heal.  I am beyond thrilled that golf is a small part of that.  Watching their hard work, practice, and dedication from week to week is beyond inspirational.  The kids tell me how much they look forward to the following week and "Golf Day."  What they may not realize is that I look forward to it at least as much as they do!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Access Granted

Earlier today I did a Google search for accessible golf courses and got a little over 63 million results.  One of the results at the top of the page was for Mobility Golf.  On their website you can find out what golf courses have accessible golf carts available to use.  Since I live in Missouri I clicked on it to see how many courses in this state have a Solorider golf cart (or something similar).  Unfortunately only 14 courses are listed.  Upon looking at those 14 I saw three of them that I know do not have a cart any longer.  What might be even more troubling than that is looking at the results for California (68 courses) and Florida (67 courses).  Why is this so troubling?  According to United State census information, roughly 56.7 million people, or approximately 19% of the population, have a disability.  Because of improvements in the medical care, that number will likely continue to grow.

I fully realize and understand that not all of these approximately 56.7 million people living with a disability require special accessibility to get around a golf course.  However for those that do, there are very limited options available to them.  Most of the results I got on my Google search were centered around recent changes to ADA requirements that focus on accessibility for miniature golf courses.  As has been well documented on this blog, every week I see the healing powers of golf.  Children (and adults alike) heal through play.  Laughter and smiles are powerful medication that can be brought on by watching a putt drop in or a tee shot go slightly farther and straighter than the last one.  For those not convinced watch these short videos:

Stories like these are less common than what they should be.  Today in the United States there are approximately 3 million medically complex children.  The simple definition of medically complex is having life-threatening conditions that affect 2 or more organ systems.  As mentioned above, thanks to improvements in medical care, many of these children are living longer and more productive lives than in the very recent past.  In fact, doctors, scientists, and researchers expect the number of medically complex children to double within the next decade.  While being medically complex does not automatically mean having a disability, many of the children still need some help getting to and around a golf course while they heal.  After watching the videos above, it should be obvious that golf can be a vital part of their healing process if access to the game is available.

Providing this access is a lot more feasible than what many people believe.  Solorider golf carts are not an absolute necessity nor are adapted golf clubs.  However an open mind and an open heart are absolute necessities.  You do not need special training or equipment to use golf as a healing tool.  What you do need is the compassion and passion to want to help others learn to play and enjoy the game while they are healing physically, mentally, and emotionally.  For those who want more information I encourage you to contact me via the e-mail address at the top of the page.  Trust me when I tell you that there is no greater high than hearing the laughter and seeing the smile on the face of a child after they hit a golf ball on the sweet spot.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh What a Night

"The legacy that Ranken Jordan is putting together is a legacy of changing and saving lives and that's a team I want to be a part of."

This quote came from St. Louis Cardinals Manager and Ranken Jordan Board Member Mike Matheny during his speech at Ranken Jordan's recent Crystal Ball Gala.  During the night, speeches from CEO Lauri Tanner, Chief Medial Officer Dr. Nick Holekamp, and Mike, were all very moving, touching, and inspirational.  The speeches were accompanied by a slideshow of pictures of kids at Ranken Jordan as well as a video of the night's guest of honor, Tracy McMahon.  On this special night the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, Missouri, was filled with hundreds of giving people with one shared passion:  helping medically complex children complete the journey from hospital to home.

Mike Matheny & Tracy McMahon

In a way that only he can, Dr. Holekamp shared the story of how Tracy came to Ranken Jordan following a horrific automobile accident.  This accident claimed the life of Tracy's father and given the injuries, should have taken Tracy's as well.  Fortunately it did not.  The accident left Tracy many injuries, including a torn aorta and spinal cord injury that left him unable to walk, that he attacked with an incredible determination.  While at Ranken Jordan Tracy always joined us for golf and because of his background playing hockey quickly picked up the game.  I watched in awe as Tracy would hit driver after driver long and straight only to be followed by a display of finesse with the wedge that might give Phil Mickelson a challenge!  Before Ranken Jordan Tracy had never touched a golf club yet in a few short weeks he looked like he had been playing his entire life.  From the short time I spent with Tracy in the golf clinics I developed a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for this young man.  However that respect and admiration grew by leaps and bounds when I saw the video shown during the Gala.  In that video they showed what can happen when you combine a hard-working patient with dogged determination and a group of medical professionals and therapists who are innovative, creative, passionate, and the best in the business.  When those things are combined you watch a young man who would never walk again get out of his wheelchair and walk.

Tracy getting ready to launch another tee shot with his U.S. Kids Golf driver

A couple of days after the Gala I received Ranken Jordan's annual report in the mail.  It is not just financial statements and numbers that all seem to run together on the pages.  Rather it contains stories of patients, volunteers, and a letter from Lauri Tanner.  Her letter put an exclamation point on the Gala, exactly what it is that Ranken Jordan does, and why the facility is so critically important.  After re-reading it for about the 10th time I asked for, and received, her permission to post a portion of it on this blog:

"When you see a child for the first time after coming out of a coma, it's magical.  When you see a preemie smile who has had to face obstacles in a few short months that most people won't face in the course of a lifetime, it's transformative.

One of our breakthrough understandings at Ranken Jordan is this:  Smiling is healing.

As a Pediatric Bridge Hospital, we take care of kids who face the most complex medical challenges imaginable in their journeys from acute care to home.  Building these bridges that will get kids home to their families requires a passionately dedicated team along with technology to construct something entirely new and tailored to each child's situation.

Yet for these kids, as for all children, the opportunity to learn and play and experience love, curiosity, delight, and laughter, helps them grow and thrive to reach their unique potential.

By getting kids out of  bed and back to being kids, our Care Beyond the Bedside model makes more recovery possible.  The kids' smiles are both a result of healing and a catalyst for more as they continue their journeys home and beyond to their best lives with their families.

Ranken Jordan has a profound presence in people's lives regardless of their connection.  If you spend any time at all here, it will change your life.

It's about giving hope to kids and families who feel hope is lost.

It's about the power of love and connection.

It's about being able to do impossible things.

It's about living when you think your life is over.

People tell me all the time they come for a tour and leave different people."

Every word Lauri wrote is 100% accurate.  Those of you who have been there understand the healing powers and magic contained in every smile.