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!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who Says We Need To Adapt?

Over the past several weeks I have been fortunate to have conversations with several people in regards to teaching physically disabled golfers.  Some of the people have sought me out while others I have sought out to try and expand my knowledge.  There have been fellow PGA Professionals, physical therapists, and parents of children with special needs.  Through all of the conversations there is ample discussion about the instruction aspect of working with a golfer who has physical issues.  But what I have found to be the most compelling aspect of the conversations is that none of them focused on the instruction.

Any time you are dealing with a golf instruction program the general thought is the focus should be on the actual instruction.  In most cases this is correct thinking.  If you are not receiving proper instruction that will make you a better player then why are you working with that teacher, right?  Since the first day I started the program at Ranken Jordan I have held tight to one contention:  Any Golf Professional who is a decent teacher of the game can teach any type of player how to play this game.  The physics behind getting the ball airborne doesn't change just because a player is standing, sitting in a wheelchair, only has one arm, or has balance issues.  I have been told that I have had to adapt my teaching to work with the kids who have such a wide variety of physical and/or mental disabilities.  But what I do on a daily basis in my teaching, and what any good golf instructor does also, is adapt my teaching to each and every student I work with.  Everybody swings the club differently so we are constantly adapting our teaching to fit every student who comes to us to improve.

So if the the instruction component of this type of junior golf program is not the focal point of the conversations then what is?  Acceptance.  Inclusion.  Opening one's mind. These are the things that have been discussed as being the most important aspects of the type of program we have at Ranken Jordan.  At times the instruction is the least important part of running a successful junior golf program which includes children with physical limitations.  In many instances golf is simply the vehicle to show these kids that they can participate, interact, and compete with other kids.  Golf has a way of leveling the playing field like no other sport.  By introducing these kids to golf we are giving them a tool that can help them heal quicker, improve their quality of life, and teach them the game of a lifetime.  Cynics will say that golf itself can't heal a child's body.  Zakki Blatt and his mother Stephanie would both be the first people to jump up and disagree with you.  Read how Zakki says "golf saved my life" by clicking HERE and watch his video that aired during U.S. Open coverage on the Golf Channel by clicking HERE.

Golf can indeed provide healing qualities to people of all ages.  It can also give a sense of "normalcy" to kids and adults alike who may not have had that feeling all the time.  Many of the sports they play have adapted equipment or rules that they need to simply participate.  When we recently took Dakota to the golf course and let him get out and play a few holes the only specialized equipment he had was a single passenger cart.  Adapted golf clubs?  Nope.  Different rules?  Absolutely not.  He went out and played the game just as you or I would.  The only difference I saw was that he putted much better than me!  Not long ago as I was walking to my car following golf at Ranken Jordan I had a parent stop me to say "thank you" for giving her child the opportunity to play golf.  This parent said they never thought they would see their kid hit a golf ball.  But one of the things they appreciated the most was that they could go into any golf shop or store and buy the same clubs for their child that all the other kids were using.  This child had always had to use specialized equipment in anything they did.  This family liked the fact that they could get standard golf clubs for their child to use and said they all would be playing golf together in the future.

Creating new golfers and establishing a successful program like what we have at Ranken Jordan is really fairly simple.  You do not necessarily need fancy adapted equipment.  You do not need the latest in video technology to break down a swing, determine the spin rate, or launch angle.  What you need is an open mind.  You need to embrace the uniqueness of each individual who wants to learn to play golf.  As mentioned above this is no different that what PGA Professionals should be doing with each student they give a lesson to.  By opening up your mind, heart, and facility to wonderful kids like the approximately 1,400 kids I have seen in our program, you are not just growing the game of golf.  Learning the game is helping these kids heal.  It is helping them grow.  And like the PGA Tour's charity message says, it is showing them that "anything is possible."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Wheelchair?

"I can't play golf in a wheelchair."

This is the reply I received from a new patient at Ranken Jordan when I asked him if he wanted to play golf with us.  Before responding to him I slowly looked around, making sure he saw what I was doing, and looked at the other 4 junior golfers who were already outside rolling putts, hitting chip shots, and working on their swing.  As we looked he noticed the same thing I did.  All 4 of the other kids who were out there were in wheelchairs as well.  Each one was smiling, laughing, and having a good time.  If not for the pediatric hospital we walked through to get to the field you might think we were at any golf course or driving range on a typical summer day.

Getting comments like the one above are not necessarily uncommon, although they certainly are not normal, either.  Most of the kids who come to our golf clinics are very positive and upbeat right from the beginning.  Occasionally we will see someone like this who initially is a bit skeptical.  Fortunately through the amazing work done by the staff at Ranken Jordan and the success we have had with the golf program, the skepticism does not last long!  His early hesitation gave way to learning how to putt.  It only took a short amount of time before the first putt went in and we saw a huge smile!  After making several more putts he moved to hitting some chip shots and quickly got the hang of it.  Before leaving for a scheduled therapy session he promised to practice during the week and would be ready for more golf the following Tuesday.

Part of me likes hearing comments like the one at the start of this post.  In a way I take it as a challenge to prove to them that they can play golf.  As long as the kids who feel this way are willing to give golf a try, they will soon see that playing golf is definitely possible.  Usually all it takes is one made putt or one solid shot and they are hooked!  Proving to the kids that they can play golf regardless of their medical situation is one part of the significant benefits the kids receive from playing golf.  Just because they may be in a wheelchair or have other physical limitations does not mean they cannot participate in activities just like every other kid.  The physical requirements of golf allow for a wide variety of benefits as related to their physical therapy.

Later during the same clinic that I've been discussing I was watching one of our "regulars" as she was rolling some putts.  While watching I told her how much her putting stroke has improved since she started playing golf.  Initially we had to help her play hand-over-hand as she was not strong enough to grip the club by herself.  At the beginning she also fatigued easy and had difficulty sitting up in her wheelchair for an extended period of time.  Over time her strength and stamina began improving.  As we were talking about her improved putting stroke she told me her hands were getting stronger and that was what she felt was helping the most.  She also told me that golf has been a big reason for her improvement.  Her desire to play more golf and play better golf has her working harder during her therapy sessions.  She also has been playing and practicing more in between clinics and has noticed how much easier it is for her to grip the club.

Golf is presenting opportunities to these kids that they may never have seen.  All of the kids who play look forward to "Golf Day" as they call it and ask the therapists to get the golf equipment out at other times during the week.  Physical, social, and emotional benefits are readily apparent in all of the kids who have played.  During the weekly golf clinics dreams have been realized, first steps have been taken, and expectations have been shattered.  Every week there is another success story, more incredible memories, and smiles that cannot be erased.  The kids who were initially hesitant to pick up a club have seen that playing golf is a very real possibility.  And those people outside the hospital who don't feel these kids can play . . . you have been proven wrong as well.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dakota Gets His Wish

Several months ago a new patient was admitted to Ranken Jordan.  He was a bit older than many of the kids, maybe 16 or 17 years old, and in a wheelchair.  I did not know then why he was in a wheelchair and I still do not know why he is in a wheelchair now.  As it relates to golf the "why" is irrelevant and has no bearing on teaching him how to play golf.  The only problem with teaching him to play golf is how he responded the first time he came to a clinic.  To say this young man wasn't overly excited about learning to play golf is a gross understatement.  Our initial conversation went something like this:

Me:  Good morning, do you want to come join us and play golf?

Dakota:  No, this game is stupid and boring.  I don't want to play.

Me:  Are you sure?  All the kids enjoy it and have fun playing.

Dakota:  No, it is stupid!

Me:  OK, why don't you just hang out here and watch.  If you want to play later just let us know.

This is a story I have told a thousand times and many of you have probably heard it by now.  About 10 minutes before the end of that first clinic Dakota picked up a putter, found an empty putting green, and started rolling a few putts.  None of us said a word.  Even as he made putt after putt after putt we still didn't say anything.  The next week went pretty much the same.  He agreed to hit some putts but refused to do anything else because "this is still stupid and boring."  Before we knew it he put the putter down and grabbed a wedge so he could hit some chip shots.  Later that week he asked the therapists to get the golf clubs out so he could practice.  Next thing we knew he was hitting drivers as straight as an arrow.  During one of our trips to a local driving range he was hitting those drivers 125-150 yards without any trouble.  Fast forward to the end of last summer and Dakota went home for his senior year of high school.  He promised to stay in touch and keep working on his golf game.

True to his word we stayed in touch and he kept me updated on school, golf, and everything in between.  March 22 rolled around and I received an e-mail from him.  Only this was not like the typical messages we exchanged.  He told me in this message what he wanted for high school graduation.  As I read through this message the young man who initially said golf was "stupid and boring" asked me if I would be willing to play golf with him once he successfully completes his senior year and graduates.  I was not able to type "when & where" fast enough!  What he doesn't know (unless he's reading this) is that I am looking forward to that round more than he is.  Today we began to put things in motion to make his wish come true.

Earlier today a group of the kids from Ranken Jordan got to spend a couple of hours at the Quarry at Crystal Springs Golf Course in Creve Coeur, MO.  Dakota was one of the kids who went to hit golf balls on the driving range and enjoy a day outside.  Thanks to the Recreation Council of Greater St. Louis we were able to have a single passenger cart with the swivel seat available for Dakota to use.  The hours upon hours of practice time he has put in at Ranken Jordan and at driving ranges finally turned into his first trip onto the golf course!  Once he was secure in the golf cart Dakota wasted no time making his way to the first tee and ripped a drive right down the middle.  For about an hour he had a smile plastered on his face that never went away.  Of course, all of us out there with him had the same type of smile on our faces.  We made our way through the first hole, played the second hole, and I told Dakota we probably should head back in so he could eat lunch.  He looked at me, pointed, and said, "the third tee is that way."  I laughed and off we went to #3.

As we made our way down the third fairway, Dakota cleared the water hazard crossing the fairway with no problem and knocked his golf ball up onto the green.  He struck each shot solidly, made some nice putts, and had more fun than I have ever seen him have.  Today I did not pick up a club or hit one shot while we were out there and it was still the most fun, most rewarding day I have ever spent on the golf course.  Getting a hole in one, making birdie on the 17th at Pebble Beach, or shooting 63 to set a course record do not begin to compare with what I was a small part of today.  When we left Dakota made it a point to thank me before he got in the van to head back to Ranken Jordan.  No, Dakota, thank you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Playing Through

63,000,000.  Yes, 63 million.  Likely you are already asking what that number represents.  It is the estimated number of Americans living with some form of a disability.  The population of the United States is just over 315 million and approximately 1 in 5 are living with a disability.  They do not have a disability; they are living with a disability.  For many of these people it is simply their way of life.  They do not let it slow them down and in many cases most people around them likely are not aware of the disability.

The PGA Tour, Champions Tour, and LPGA Tour might not be the first places you would look for examples of people who refuse to let their disability or complex medical condition interfere with their life.  Yet each week you can look at the leaderboard and find someone who is just "playing through" a situation that would at the very least slow down most people.  Earlier this summer Stacy Lewis won the Women's British Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf.  Those who follow the LPGA Tour likely were not overly surprised because Stacy has held the ranking of #1 player in the world.  The amazing thing about her victory is Stacy won with a stainless steel rod and 5 screws implanted in her back.  It wasn't all that long ago that she was in a back brace and facing the real possibility of never walking again due to scoliosis.  Now she's winning Major Championships on the LPGA Tour.  To learn more about Stacy's incredible story visit her website HERE.

Earlier this year if you watched the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, you would have seen Erik Compton finishing T-4th.  That is one of Erik's three Top 25 finishes so far this year on the PGA Tour.  I realize three Top 25 finishes may not be impressive to some people since Tiger Woods has won 5 times this season.  But has Tiger won those 5 events following 2 heart transplants?  Erik Compton has had those 2 transplants, continues to play extremely well on Tour, and inspire millions each and every week.  More information on Erik can be found at

In 2009 Jeff Klauk earned well over $1 million on the PGA Tour, contended in THE PLAYERS Championship, and finished 60th on the FedEx Cup points list.  Many thought he was well on his way to a long, successful career on the PGA Tour.  Then the injuries started occurring and several surgeries followed.  Jeff also has epilepsy.  According to an article in the Kansas City Star on July 17, Jeff "has been seizure-free for well over a year" thanks to proper medication.  You can read the full article by clicking HERE.  This summer Jeff is playing the Tour and working his way back to the PGA Tour.  I certainly have no doubt we will see him again very soon on the PGA Tour!

May 14-19, 2010, in Birmingham, AL, marked the first time ever that an amputee played in a Champions Tour event.  Ken Green was in a horrific accident on June 8, 2009 that led to his right leg being amputated below the knee.  This accident also took the life of Ken's brother, partner-in-life Jeanne, and his German Shepherd.  For most an accident like this would end their golf days.  Not Ken.  He has kept playing, kept playing well, and continued to play at the highest level.  In that first tournament back in Birmingham he fired rounds of 74-76-75!  I'd take those scores any day of the week!  Learn more about Ken Green HERE.

When the kids I work with at Ranken Jordan and other pediatric hospitals ask what golfers they should watch, players like the ones mentioned in this post are the names I tell them.  These 4 players are inspirational to all golfers, and people in general, not just for their high-level of play.  Each one of them has overcome a situation that very likely would have derailed the golf dreams of most people.  Hard work, perseverance, and a dogged determination have gotten them where they are today.  No doctor or diagnosis has kept them from reaching the goals they have set for themselves.  They have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that, as the PGA Tour's charity slogan says, "Anything Is Possible."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

These Guys Are Really Good

As I watch the PGA Tour's Bridgestone World Golf Championship event my thoughts are no different than any other week:  the Tour's slogan is correct, these guys are good.  The shot making is unparalleled and beyond comprehension for many "everyday" players.  Drives are consistently high, straight, and long.  Wedge shots are usually found within feet of the hole.  And those 6' putts that make the knees of a mere mortal quake with fear?  No big deal.  All of the shots that prove to 99% of golfers why we play the game for fun and enjoyment are executed effortlessly on the PGA Tour.

To reach the PGA Tour is indeed a dream come true for every player out there.  Each and every golfer on Tour has practiced endlessly throughout their entire lives to reach this level of play.  Thousands upon thousands of range balls have been hit and what seems like millions of putts have been rolled on the practice green.  The tireless practice combined with hours in the gym get them in the right position to excel on the golf course.  And for every player on Tour you can find hundreds more who work just as hard to try and displace those inside the magical top 125.

In today's round 3, Jason Dufner is hitting some amazing shots as he tries to get within striking distance of Tiger Woods.  Yesterday Tiger couldn't miss and wound up firing a 61!  Needless to say he hit plenty of jaw-dropping shots.  Yet as I continue watching these world-class athletes I cannot help but think that they are not hitting the best golf shots I have ever seen.  The people who play golf for a living are the best in the world, but I have seen better, more inspirational golf shots elsewhere.

The same type of determination and dedication can be seen on the faces of the kids I work with every week at Ranken Jordan.  As I mentioned in the last post on this blog I saw the same type of determination from the kids at Mercy Children's Hospital in St. Louis while I was there last week.  For many of these wonderful kids taking just a few swings can be as challenging as making a downhill slider on the 72nd hole to win the Masters.  Slick greens, gusty wind, and/or long rough all contribute to making every Tour event difficult.  Last week I helped a young man once again pick up a golf club as he faced a "hazard" that could be considered more intimidating than the crashing waves to the left of the 18th at Pebble Beach.

I say "could be considered more intimidating" because at no point was this courageous 7 year old going to let the recent amputation of his left leg at the knee slow him down.  He and his family took a break from his therapy to join us for golf.  He rolled a few putts and made enough that I considered asking for a lesson.  Next he grabbed a wedge to hit some chip shots.  It came as no surprise that he knocked several right into the middle of the net he was using as his target.  And then he looked up and smiled as he asked if he could hit some drivers.  What happened?  You would be correct if you guessed he started hitting driver after driver dead straight.  Before leaving for the day he made it clear how much fun he had . . . and that after seeing what he was able to do he was definitely going to continue playing golf when he left the hospital.

When I go back through the blog posts I find myself reading a lot of similar material.  However none of it seems repetitive or redundant to me.  As the author of this blog I understand that my opinion is biased.  But what I enjoy is going back and reading the many stories that have been told of the young men and women who continue to inspire me on a daily basis.  They are fighting and battling through medically complex issues that no child should ever have to endure.  Yet they find themselves in those situations and they go through every day with a smile on their faces.  Yes the guys on the PGA Tour are good; however these kids are really good.