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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!

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."