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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, June 26, 2013

Time For Camp!

Thirty-two smiling junior golfers.  Some of the kids walked to the area where they would practice.  Some of them ran to the same spot.  Still others rolled themselves or were pushed in their wheelchairs.  The method by which they arrived is irrelevant.  What is important is that they were all there with the same purpose:  to hit golf balls, learn how they could improve, and have fun.  Able-bodied kids were sandwiched in between kids with obvious physical challenges.  The ironic thing about it is the junior golfers who kept asking to hit more golf balls were the ones who are patients at Ranken Jordan!

Mikey T. and Dakota working on their chipping while Ali Wells gives a tip to a camper.
Each summer Ranken Jordan conducts camps that are 100% inclusive and all of the activities are able to be completed and enjoyed by each and every kid who participates.  This summer marks the third year that golf has been a part of their summer camp.  Every year the number of kids who come for the golf clinics has grown and it seems the size of the smiles on their faces continues to grow as well.  Thirty-two kids may not be a lot when compared to many junior golf programs around the country.  However when you are talking about a junior golf program at a pediatric hospital it is a great number!

Unlike some of the "traditional" junior golf programs I have been involved with ours does not rely on the number of players to determine how successful it has been.  Do we want to see as many kids as possible enjoying the game and having fun outside on a sunny summer morning?  You better believe we do.  But we do not use this number as the focal point in deciding if the golf clinics should continue on in the following year's camps.  Rather we look at the faces of the kids while they are hitting golf balls and as they are heading back inside to Warner's Corner for more fun and games.  Those expressions we see are the determining factor of whether or not we have achieved success.

Bombs away!
One other way we determine the level of success is from the interaction of the kids with each other.  It is not often that you the mixture of kids all playing the same game like you do at Ranken Jordan.  On a weekly basis throughout the year we show the patients that they can play and enjoy golf.  During the camps we have the opportunity to show the able-bodied participants from the community that just because a child is in a wheelchair it does not mean they should not be included.  In fact, during the clinic on June 25, 2013, I watched 2 young men in wheelchairs hit the ball farther than the able-bodied kids who were hitting next to them!

It has been well-documented in various blog posts that our golf program runs year-round thanks to the wonderful facility we have to work with.  During most of those weeks the focus is on showing the patients that they can participate in a sport, enjoy it, and have success with it.  Those weeks of diligent practice lead into these weeks during the summer where the patients have the opportunity to show off their skills to their peers.  While working with a couple of the patients at Ranken Jordan, I looked up at different times to see some of the campers staring in awe as ball after ball was sent flying straight as an arrow.  As I walked up and down the line of junior golfers offering a tip here and there, I often found myself wondering who was learning more, the patients, camp participants, or those of us who were supposed to be providing the instruction!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The 5th Major?

For many PGA Professionals the start of the golf season includes marking their calendars for the dates of the Section tournaments they plan to play in.  Many Professionals will find themselves playing in tournaments almost every Monday throughout the golf season.  Unfortunately I do not play that much but I do mark my calendar early in the year for the 2 events I always make certain to play in.  Only one of these events I always plan to play in is a Gateway PGA Section event (PGA Golf Day www,  The other event is the Ranken Jordan Golf Tournament (click HERE for info).

This year's event is July 8 and will be held at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, MO.  Norwood Hills is a great country club and in the past has hosted several PGA Tour events including the 1948 PGA Championship won by none other than Ben Hogan.  Tom Watson met his long-time caddy, the late Bruce Edwards, at this historic club.  There are plenty more stories of famous names who have walked the links at Norwood Hills.  As has been the case the last few years, there is one golfer playing in the Ranken Jordan tournament that many have not heard of but all could gain inspiration from.  The young man's name is Sam Ward and recently I learned I will have the honor and privilege of playing alongside him on July 8.  You may ask why am I looking forward to playing with Sam?  Click HERE to watch a short video and learn more about what Sam has successfully battled to continue playing golf.

According to the United States National Library of Medicine, cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking.  Symptoms may include muscle weakness or loss of movement in a group of muscles, abnormal gait, muscles that are very tight and do not stretch, or joints that are tight and do not open up.  These symptoms may affect one arm or leg, one side of the body, both legs, or both arms and legs.  Sam has not let cerebral palsy keep him off the golf course just as he has not let the major hip surgery he had slow him down.  The surgery required him to be at Ranken Jordan for 6 weeks of very intensive rehabilitation.  Initially Sam had to have assistance getting from the golf cart to the golf ball and was only able to play limited shots.  The next year he got around on his own with the aid of a walker.  Following that he walked on his own and did not need the help of anybody or anything to play all 18 holes!  Thanks to his hard work Sam's golf game has continued to progress and improve; I have heard a lot about him and look forward to watching him play up close.

As I mentioned, this year's golf tournament is July 8 at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, MO.  It is not too late to enter a team and/or contribute in some way to the golf tournament.  To sign up, contribute, or get more information about the tournament please contact Elaine Hickerson at 314.872.6412 or  Each year this single event raises in excess of $40,000!  Every dollar raised by Ranken Jordan makes an incredible difference in the lives of thousands of kids every year.  The kids who see these benefits are there because they need to be there.  The ability or inability of a family to pay for the medical care their child receives is never a factor in determining who is admitted to Ranken Jordan.  And once these children are at Ranken Jordan they can begin participating in the junior golf program!

Every child is welcome at our clinics and they always leave with a smile.  Just think, once you sign up to play in the July 8 golf tournament you might even have the chance to watch a kid from our program bomb a drive past the one you just hit!  How good would it feel knowing that the money you donated for playing in the golf tournament led to medical and rehabilitative care for a kid that may not have been possible otherwise . . . and then led to that kid being introduced to the game of golf.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It Happened Again

It happened again.  As ball after ball is struck and shot after shot flies through the air it happened again.  While it is not a common occurrence it is not exactly a rarity, either.  Standing to the side watching her 4 year old daughter swing a golf club a mother has tears rolling down her cheeks as a smile covers her face.  Watching her daughter hit golf balls is not what is making her cry tears of joy.  Simply seeing her daughter out of her wheelchair doing something athletic brings more joy than she could have ever imagined.

Physical limitations cause the junior golfer to only be able to grip the club in her right hand.  Balance and coordination limitations require that I have a hand on the club to guide the swing and help her make contact.  One other adjustment we have to make in teaching her is that she has not been able to get out of her wheelchair for very long . . . and until this first time playing golf she had never stood in grass.  After a couple of swings her physical therapist (because of the balance issues the therapist is there to hold her and make sure she is able to stand and hit golf balls) and I determine it would be best if she stands on the edge of the sidewalk, we place the golf ball in the grass, and she hits from there.  This is not something that is even considered in a typical junior golf program at golf courses around this country and around the world.  However at Ranken Jordan, this type of adjustment is just another day in our golf program.

Making adjustments in our teaching from student to student is nothing new for PGA Professionals.  Every lesson is a different student meaning a different way of learning, different strength & flexibility, different type of player, etc.  Reasons like this are why golfers go to PGA Professionals for lessons.  We have the knowledge and training to make these adjustments, tailor our teaching to the individual student, and ensure the student gets the maximum benefit from their time on the lesson tee with us.  What is rare is having to make adjustments because someone has never stood in grass before, can only see an orange colored golf ball, or has a cast on their right arm one week followed by a cast on their left arm 2 weeks later.  These are the adjustments I, and the other PGA Professionals who go to Ranken Jordan, make on a weekly basis.  As has been mentioned in several other blogs, these types of changes provide the rewards that have given me the most pleasure I have experienced during my career.

I have seen students transform their game through hard work and lessons and make the jump from amateur golf to the professional level.  I have watched students break 100 for the first time following a long season of diligent practice and instruction.  I have also watched a student pick up a driver for the first time and hit a high, soaring drive that has her jumping up and down on the lesson tee.  But what I have enjoyed the most are moments like what happened this past Tuesday during "Golf Day" at Ranken Jordan.

These are the memories that would have never happened if I had not met with Janine Roe and created this amazing program.  Thinking back to the week before Christmas in 2012 and watching 13 year old AJ get out of his wheelchair, take his first steps, sink a few putts, and then walk back to his wheelchair still brings tears to my eyes.  Now that I think about it, having him stand up and play the game as opposed to in his wheelchair was another adjustment I had to make in my teaching.  That is the type of adjustment that makes all the time and effort so worthwhile.  This crazy game we call golf is making a difference in the lives of thousands of children with complex medical conditions.  I am honored to have a small role in making that difference.  The "difference" I am talking about . . . this past Tuesday it happened again.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Great Compensation Package

It is amazing what a couple of short television news stories can do for the awareness of a golf program at a pediatric hospital.  Following the stories done by Art Holliday with KSDK-TV 5 (NBC affiliate in St. Louis) and Martin Kilcoyne with Fox 2 (Fox affiliate in St. Louis) people from all over have been asking questions of me, my family members, friends, etc.  You would think that the questions would relate to the visits we had during the Senior PGA Championship from Chamions Tour Player Scott Simpson, PGA President Ted Bishop, PGA Vice-President Derek Sprague, and PGA Secretary Paul Levy.  However the questions have been more about the program in general, specifically how the kids are able to play golf and how am I compensated.

Scott Simpson giving Deontay tips while Kevin Corn and Lauri Tanner look on

The latter part of that last statement is what this post will focus on and those of you who have read the blog posts since the beginning can provide a quick answer:  I am not compensated financially for the weekly golf clinics at Ranken Jordan.  Neither are any of the other PGA Professionals who have provided instruction to the kids.  You want to know the funny thing?  None of us have ever even thought about being paid for doing what we do.  The rewards we get from working with the kids far outweigh what a paycheck could provide.  How many of you have been a part of anything where a 13 year old tells you they want to learn how to walk . . . and then you watch him take his first steps up to a putting green, sink a few putts, and then walk back to his wheelchair?  Or how many of you have ever had a mother crying on your shoulder as she thanks you for making her wheelchair bound son's dream of playing golf come true?  Maybe you have at least had a "sword fight" (using putters) as a way of convincing a 6 year old boy he really needed to go to therapy.  I could go on and on with examples like this.  Situations like this do not happen every week, but they do happen regularly.  Typically what we see that provides all the "compensation" we need is a huge smile when one of the kids hits a ball on the sweet spot and gets that special feeling all golfers long for.

When told that the instructors have never been paid a dime, nor will they be, most people are left in disbelief.  What they apparently don't get is that the reason we are doing this is because we know we are making a difference.  Maybe the difference will be that some of the kids will continue playing golf when the leave the hospital and our game will benefit accordingly.  Maybe the difference will be some of the kids will see improved strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, social interaction, and greater self-confidence.  Maybe the difference will be that some of the kids will see their bad day turned into a good day because of the time they got to spend playing golf.  Or just maybe the difference will be simply allowing these great kids to be kids for an hour each week.  Speaking from 2+ years of experience I can tell you the difference is all the above and then some.  Since starting the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan it has become obvious to me what a great healing tool golf is for these kids and that is really all that matters.

PGA Vice-President Derek Sprague helping Tyler get lined up

Imagine if you were in a hospital after being hit by a car, as the result of a stroke, or an issue with your lower body that leaves you confined to a wheelchair.  As adults many of you can put yourself in that place and begin to think about how you might deal with the situation.  Now imagine if that scenario happened during your youth while you were growing up.  Instead of going outside and playing with your friends during summer break you are going to therapy on a daily basis hoping that at some point you will be able to get out of your wheelchair for good.  Your dreams are the ones that many kids have of playing professional baseball or being a police officer.  How do you think you would deal with that situation?  I would expect your answer to be a bit different than how you would handle it as an adult.

Corey is already talking to his mom about how often he will practice his putting!

My role at Ranken Jordan, and the role of all the other PGA Professionals who help, is not to find the next Rory McIlroy or Natalie Gulbis.  We are there to provide an outlet for these great kids to simply be kids and see that they can be involved in a sport if they choose to.  As I mentioned, golf is a great recovery tool and our program is used that way in a lot of instances.  If what little time we spend there can brighten the day of any of the kids then we have had a very successful clinic.  Of course, I always enjoy hearing from the kids who have left the hospital and still continue to play golf.  But what I really cherish, and the reason why I go back every week, is to see the smiles and hear the kids say "this is fun!"