How To Help

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!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

When Bubba Watson holed his putt on the 72nd hole to win the 2014 Masters it ended what I consider every year to be the best week in sports.  Major League Baseball's regular season has started, the NCAA basketball championship has been decided, and we have seen again the beauty of Augusta National on display during the Masters Tournament.  As a sports fan it simply does not get any better than that.  For those of you like me who do not miss a second of Masters coverage, whether it be live or recorded (or in my case both), you have heard the phrase "a tradition unlike any other."  That is a great way to describe the Masters.  Watching the golf tournament either on television or as a patron on the grounds at Augusta National, you cannot help but see and enjoy how much the tournament and club embrace the tradition of the game.

Beginning with the tee shot from the honorary starters, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player, on Thursday, tradition is everywhere you look at the Masters.  Here in St. Louis I like to think we have developed another "tradition unlike any other" at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  This tradition does not involve pimento cheese sandwiches or holing a putt on the last hole and showing off a 3" vertical leap (Phil Mickelson) to win the treasured Green Jacket.  Our tradition occurs on a weekly basis 12 months a year regardless of weather conditions.  It involves making kids smile, hearing them laugh, helping them heal, and improving their lives through the game of golf.

Visit Ranken Jordan during one of our golf clinics and you will be simply amazed at what these kids are achieving.  Since the inception of this blog I have written many success stories from the thousands of kids who have been part of our golf program.  For some it is taking their first steps ever up to a putting green.  Some of the other kids might see this success when they are strong enough to sit up in their wheelchair to take their first swing on their own.  Still others are sports nuts like me and are able to have a "dream come true" by learning how to play golf and be involved in a sport regardless of having 17 surgeries in the first 9 years of their life.  Maybe, just maybe, the success means driving a golf cart (the first thing in his life he has driven at 18 years old) and watching a golf ball sail majestically over a water hazard and land softly on the green.

You likely will not see a Green Jacket awarded during our golf clinics, although do not put it past me to do something like that.  What you will see every week are miracles happening all around you.  Some of these miracles are because of golf while others are enhanced by the kids being involved in golf.  Whatever the reason, their lives are richer and fuller because they have learned how sweet it feels to make that one important putt or feel the click from a well struck tee shot.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you spend enough time at Ranken Jordan with the kids, you will see the same pure joy and excitement as Adam Scott at the 2013 Masters as well as the tears of joy from Bubba Watson following the 2014 Masters.  For many of the kids we play the Masters every week.

The game, and business, of golf has reached a point where changes have to be made in order for it to continue to grow.  Making the game more accessible for all people is one way for this to happen.  As new USGA President, and St. Louis native, Tom O'Toole stated at Pinehurst, NC, "Making the game more accessible and more welcoming is not done merely for the benefit of feeling good, or even just doing the right thing. Opening up golf is good for the game."  I completely agree with this statement.  With programs like what we have at Ranken Jordan we are improving the lives of medically complex children while at the same time growing the game.  This sure seems like a "win-win" situation to me . . . so what are we waiting for?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

One Putt Is All It Takes

Golfers of all ages, abilities, and skill levels know the feeling of that one good shot that keeps you coming back.  No matter how much you play or practice, or how many lessons you take, everybody has a day when things just are not going their way.  And then comes that one shot that makes you say, "where has that been all day?!?"  If you are anything like me that shot typically does not appear until the 17th or 18th hole!  More often than not that one shot is a nice, high drive that flies down the fairway just like you had planned.  Other times it could be a chip shot that nestles up close to the hole for an easy par or might even drop in for a surprise birdie.  On occasion it might even be a putt that sends you home in a good mood.

A well-timed putt is what did the trick during a recent clinic at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  On this particular day we had a fairly large group of kids working on their swings and perfecting their putting strokes in Warner's Corner.  Many of the junior golfers had been to clinics before and had a pretty good grasp on what they wanted to work on.  But one young lady was joining us for the first time.  I talked to her for a few minutes with her telling me she had played golf before having to go into the hospital and really enjoyed putting.  After hearing that I grabbed the correct size putter for her and off we went to an open putting green.

It took her a few putts to get her wheelchair right where she wanted it to allow for the smoothest putting stroke.  I helped her a little bit with her alignment and length of her backstroke and off she went.  Putt after putt rolled towards the hole always staying just outside the cup.  She tried and tried but just could not get a putt to drop.  More putts followed with the same results.  She was having fun but I could still see a bit of frustration building with her.  We stopped to talk for a couple of minutes about those days when it seems like there is a lid on the hole.  During our conversation she mentioned that she might go play the Wii or do something else until time for her therapy.  But as she watched the other kids ripping drivers off the windows or hitting chip shots into the target nets she decided to hit some more putts.

The first two putts she hit after starting back somehow stopped just short.  The next putt she hit rolled right into the middle of the cup.  I started to see the formation of a little smile but she would not give in.  The following putt fell dead-center into the hole and there was no stopping the smile!  This was exactly what I was hoping to see from her.  The fun had returned, she made a couple of putts, and she was enjoying time with the other kids playing golf.  These are the moments that make this junior golf program so special for all of those involved.  Seeing the pure joy on the face of this young lady absolutely made my day.

Since starting the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan I have noticed a major change in my own golf game.  Gone are the childish temper fits and frustration after hitting a bad shot because each week I am reminded how insignificant it really is when I hook another drive into the trees.  One thing that has emerged when I am on the course is a complete lack of tolerance for those players who choose to whine about their bad shots.  Get over it and go hit your next shot.  The junior golfers in our program every week are a constant reminder of what is truly important.  The next time you go out to play a round of golf think about their positive attitudes and smiling faces that result from one made putt.  I am sure you will find that you play better, and those playing golf with you will likely enjoy your company much more, too!

Monday, March 24, 2014

High-Tech Training Aids

Regardless of the sport you play equipment is getting more and more technologically advanced.  Custom fitting of golf clubs has become the most important aspect of buying clubs (and it should be).  Major League Baseball hitters watch video between at bats to try and pick up a tendency from the pitcher that will tip off what pitch they are about to see.  Golfers use launch monitors to maximize distance and improve accuracy by changing the specifications on their clubs as well as providing information to their teachers that dictate necessary swing changes.  Whatever sport is played people are willing to spend crazy amounts of money in order to improve and enjoy the game more.

This is readily evident in the world of golf.  Every year companies roll out new $400 drivers that are supposed to be longer and straighter than last year's model.  New irons that cost $1000 per set are released and marketed as the most forgiving or best feeling iron ever made by that particular company.  Many golfers who decide to buy a new driver or new set of irons will be custom fit for them on a $20,000 simulator.  As I mentioned above, whatever amount of money is spent the goal is the same:  play better and enjoy the game more.

Dakota & Mikey T. perfecting their putting strokes

Many times I have been asked about the equipment we use at Ranken Jordan.  People assume that because many of the kids are in wheelchairs or even hospital beds that we must use some type of adapted equipment that costs a fortune.  This thinking is completely incorrect.  The junior golfers use standard U.S. Kids golf clubs and do exceptionally well with them.  Since we use standard golf clubs we have to use fancy, expensive training aids and targets, right?  Nope, sorry.  Inexpensive putting greens and pop up target nets are two of the favorite items for the kids to use.  However last week we may have found one of the best training aids that led to some of the biggest smiles we have had.

Cooper loves golf!
This past week we held our golf clinic in a hallway.  Hey, who says we need to be outside or in a large, open area inside in order for the kids to play golf?  In the days leading up to our most recent clinic I received e-mails and text messages with requests from the kids saying they wanted to work on putting.  What is it that we used that they enjoyed so much?  The high-tech training aid we used was a fancy styrofoam cup.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We used a styrofoam cup.  One thing that is often overlooked in sports is the importance of keeping things simple.  The kids at Ranken Jordan do not want a shiny $400 driver or $20,000 simulator to help them enjoy the game.  All they want is to have fun, smile, laugh, and enjoy time with their friends.

This is one of the things we focus most on with our program (and if you have read many of my blog posts you know that).  Each week we want the kids to have fun, improve their game, and want to play golf again.  Along the way they enjoy the benefits golf brings as a healing tool both physically and emotionally.  The game of golf is very powerful in this way and nowhere is it more evident than a pediatric hospital.  The next time you think you are having a bad day do this:  find a local pediatric hospital and take in some putters, golf balls, and styrofoam cups.  Give the kids an hour of your time and show them the basics of putting.  You will make a difference in the lives of the kids and the game of golf will make a difference in their lives.  And along the way you will forget that you were having a bad day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

He Didn't Give Up

Find anything in life that you have a great passion for and you will discover benefits that you never considered.  Such is the case with our junior golf program at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  Each week at the conclusion of our golf clinic I walk away having learned something new from the kids or with the fulfillment of knowing that they had fun during the time we spent together.  Forgetting the personal realm of the program, seeing the kids benefit from playing the game is the best part of the program.  Often times our junior golfers are growing, improving, and healing in ways that I may or may not recognize.

In many past blog posts I have written about a young man named Dakota who initially thought golf was "stupid and boring."  Despite those feelings he still gave the game a try and has since grown to love playing golf.  At a recent clinic we had another young junior golfer with similar feelings to Dakota and was experiencing the same frustrations that all golfers have been though when the putts just aren't dropping.  In fact, his frustration grew to the point that he said those words many golfers have wanted to say from time to time, "I give up.  I'm not doing this anymore."

To his credit he did not give up and agreed to let me work with him for 5 more minutes.  Our deal was that if he didn't make 3 putts during that time he could leave and would not have to play golf again if he did not want to.  Right away we made a couple of adjustments to his stance and posture.  He also changed his grip switching to cross-handed (or left-hand low, whichever you prefer) as he said it felt better to him.  This made me smile as I have putted that way for over 30 years.  As is the case with many changes in golf, the new stance and posture felt a bit awkward to him at first.  But after a few putts he started feeling better and getting the ball closer to the hole each time.

While we were "working" one thing happened before anything else, the smile returned to his face.  He was having fun again.  Even though no putts had gone in yet we had already succeeded in many ways.  But then as soon as the smile returned to his face he made a putt . . . and the smile got bigger.  He lined up his next putt and it went in, too!  Now he was practically dancing while he was getting ready for the next putt.  I remembered what making the third putt meant but I wasn't sure if he was thinking about it until he said, "if I make this putt I am going to keep playing."  But before he got the chance to hit this important putt he had to take a quick break for a dose of medication.  This is one of those breaks in concentration and focus that most golfers don't experience.  The kids at Ranken Jordan take it in stride and keep right on going without giving it a second thought.

Now it was time for that putt to find out if he was going to make that third putt.  Before he hit it I thought I just wanted him to make 3 putts and here he was with the chance to make 3 in a row!  As he was getting ready to hit the putt a couple of the therapists who were there stopped to watch since they knew what was going on.  As soon as he hit the putt there was never a doubt . . . it was center cut the entire way and went straight into the hole!  The smile he had after making the third putt in a row lit up Warner's Corner and he said "I'm not giving up.  I want to keep playing!"  This brought to mind the ESPY Awards from March 4, 1993, when Coach Jim Valvano gave his incredible speech which included the quote that will never be forgotten:  "Don't give up.  Don't ever give up!"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Helping the Whole Family Heal

Spend much time at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital or on their website and you are likely to repeatedly encounter the phrase "care beyond the bedside."  This phrase permeates all they do at the hospital and is evidenced by the activities you see the kids doing as they transition from hospital to home.  If you walk into Ranken Jordan expecting to see kids laying in their hospital beds or sitting in their rooms playing video games then you are in the wrong place.  Instead you will see kids playing basketball, air hockey, or golf.  And the one most important thing you will see with all the kids is they are smiling, laughing, and having fun . . . and getting better.

The golf program at Ranken Jordan is a great example of their philosophy of getting the kids up, out of bed, and out of their rooms as they journey down the road to recovery.  Golf has proved to be a wonderful healing tool and has been used in all manners by the medical team at Ranken Jordan.  One of the greatest things about teaching the kids how to play golf, and I have discussed this repeatedly on this blog, is the wide range of physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits the kids receive from participating in the game of a lifetime.  But one of the often overlooked benefits of the kids playing golf is the benefit received by the family members who may have never thought it would be possible to have a new junior golfer in the household.

Many times during the almost 3 years since our program debuted I have been standing with a parent, sibling, or grandparent as they watch ball after ball go flying long and straight.  Often the family members start off with a feeling of disbelief at seeing something they never dreamed possible is in reality possible.  That feeling quickly dissipates and is replaced by extreme excitement, joy, and pride.  There is nothing as rewarding as putting smiles on the faces of the kids at Ranken Jordan who I am so fortunate to teach how to play golf.  But almost as rewarding is seeing the smiles and tears of joy from the parents as they watch their child do what may have been considered impossible.  Seeing your child in the hospital is probably one of the most difficult things any parent will encounter.  But when they can see the child having fun, smiling, and doing something new while they are recovering, that pain and difficulty subsides just a little bit.

Golf can be a very inclusionary sport and activity for kids and families alike.  This allows the game to serve as a type of continuum of care for the kids, siblings, and parents.  By showing them while they are in the hospital that they can play golf, everyone has something to look forward to once the child has gone home.  I have heard from many of the kids that they never thought they would be able to play sports, or play sports again, after leaving the hospital.  After being introduced to golf they feel differently and so do their parents.  One of the best comments (and I take it as a compliment, too) I have heard came from a father who said, "I never thought my son would be able to play golf.  Now I can't wait to get to the golf course with him!"  Golf is helping kids heal and helping families through a difficult time.  And as Ranken Jordan's website says, they "are a place where the impossible becomes possible."

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Every time you turn on the television to watch any professional golf tournament you will see great shots being struck.  After each of those shots you will typically hear an explanation about why that shot was successful (or in some instances unsuccessful).  The insight provided by Sir Nick Faldo, Johnny Miller, or Jim Nantz is almost always spot on.  One of the things I find amazing when I watch a golf tournament is how the players and broadcasters define success on the golf course.  In almost all of the golf lessons I have given in my career I tell players that one of the keys to scoring well is making your poor shots as good as possible.  For instance, if a bad tee shot typically would put your ball out of play, improve your game to the point of being able to keep that bad tee shot in the rough allowing you to play on without adding a penalty stroke.

There is one area of my golf instruction that we do not necessarily measure success in the same ways as the "everyday" player or the professional golfer that you watch on TV.  I am sure that anyone who has read this blog regularly already knows that the area I am talking about is my time teaching the kids at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  To the kids there, a successful golf shot can be determined by any number of reasons, only a few of which actually involve the game of golf.  In the past few weeks we have seen kids hit successful shots for the following reasons:
  • Better angle of attack into the ball leading to a more consistent trajectory
  • Less movement of the head while putting leading to better contact
  • Being able to sit up in a wheelchair long enough to hit 5 golf shots
  • Physically holding the golf club with 2 hands to hit the ball
  • Standing up to hit the golf ball
  • Having the ability to turn their head to look at the ball
These are only a few of the hundreds of reasons we have seen successful golf shots struck every week during our golf clinics.  Of course it isn't uncommon to see good golf shots being hit on several days of the week . . . the kids love playing golf balls so much that they have the therapists get the clubs out as often as possible!

I understand that everyone who plays this game has a different way of determining how successful or unsuccessful a particular shot is.  This is one of the great things about the game --- anyone can play and enjoy golf regardless of the level of their play.  What Phil Mickelson considers a "bad" shot is likely better than what many golfers consider a "good" shot.  At Ranken Jordan one of the ways we determine the success of a shot is by measuring how much good playing the game is doing for each individual kid.  In a lot of cases getting the ball airborne can be secondary, although you will never see a bigger smile on the face of a kid than the first time they see the ball they just hit sailing through the air!

Our junior golf program is nearing its 3 year anniversary (May 10, 2014 is the date).  During that time we have seen many, many successful shots that would go unnoticed by anyone who was unaware of the entire story.  I have been fortunate to go to the Masters, U.S. Open, Ryder Cup, PGA Championship, Bay Hill, etc., and have seen many great shots hit at each tournament.  None of them compare to what I see weekly in a very special pediatric hospital.  This morning I watched a young lady hit a ball all the way across Warner's Corner when only a few short months ago she barely had the strength to sit up in her wheelchair and allow me to help her swing the club.  One of the single greatest shots, and maybe the greatest, I have ever seen happened just before Christmas 2012 when I watched a 13 year old boy get out of his wheelchair, take his first steps ever up to a putting green, and roll a few putts before walking back to his wheelchair.  To this day I still am unable to tell that story with dry eyes!  When I am out playing or practicing on my own game these are the shots I think of as I try to improve my game.  What I see these kids do every week inspires me to be a better player and a better person.  They have hit some miraculous shots and I am very lucky to be a small part of what they accomplish every week!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Golf Helps the Healing Process

The simplified purpose of any pediatric healing facility is to help kids get better and go home to their family and friends.  Now I realize there is a lot more going on in each and every pediatric hospital or rehabilitation center around the country, but the basic goal of every one is to heal children and get them home.  For each and every patient, many procedures, treatments, therapies, and tools are used to accomplish this goal.  Often times there are standard protocols that can be followed and will work with many of the patients.  Then there are those times where health care professionals have to think outside the box to get through to a child and kick-start their healing process.  I have witnessed some of those occasions and can confidently say that golf is a healing tool.

How can I so confidently make a statement like that?  After all, I am a PGA Professional with no formal healthcare education (although I have stayed at Holiday Inn Express).  What grounds do I have to stand up and say that golf is a healing tool?  The basis of my confidence in saying that is I have seen it happen time and time again.  Week in and week out I have watched kids improve their strength, stamina, balance, coordination, motor skills, etc.  Through my work at Ranken Jordan I have had the honor of meeting and talking to people like Zakki Blatt and Kyle Miller who are prime examples of the significant healing role golf can play in the life of a child.  Do yourself a favor and read their Golf Save My Life articles by Max Adler from past Golf Digest magazines.  Click HERE for Zakki's story and HERE for Kyle's story.

Another contributing factor to my confidence in saying golf is a healing tool occurred in one of our recent golf clinics at Ranken Jordan.  During one of our clinics this winter we had a young man, maybe 7 or 8 years old, who started playing golf from his wheelchair.  Over the course of several weeks his therapy progressed to the point where he was standing for short periods of time with the aid of a therapist.  On multiple mornings, he would come to golf for a short time, work on his swing in his wheelchair, and then head to therapy (times overlapped but he always wanted to make some time for golf).  Each morning it never failed, he would leave for therapy only to return a few minutes later with a therapist in tow.  His therapist told us that he wouldn't stand for her but he would happily stand up to hit golf balls!  To go along with the physical benefits he received through playing golf we also saw changes in his interaction with the other kids and his own happiness.  He always had to watch the other kids hit a few shots, talk to them, and had a smile plastered on his face the entire time.

Jeff Middleton, PGA, Zakki Blatt, & Kevin Corn, PGA
For many people golf is simply a way to escape for a short time or unwind after a stressful day.  Other folks, like me, make our living through golf.  To the kids I teach every week golf is improving their lives.  Regardless of how big or small the improvements are, the fact remains that golf is making a difference.  These kids deserve the opportunity to learn the game of a lifetime and enjoy some of the healing benefits it provides.  Why is this so and what can it really do for them?  Contact me and I will gladly provide more information and details.  Simply stated, when the opportunity is presented to the kids it leads to . . . Possibility.