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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!

Friday, April 25, 2014

In the Driver's Seat

As kids in this country grow older and get closer to their 16th birthday there is little else on their mind other than when can they start driving a car.  Having the freedom to get out and go where they need to (or at least they think they need to) provides an unending amount of happiness.  Of course many parents feel the same sense of happiness as their services as a shuttle driver will not be needed as often!  Imagine, though, being a 15 or 16 year old boy who has rarely thought about being able to drive a car.

This was the case with one of our "regulars" in the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  Some of you reading this may remember reading a post from last summer about the day we took Dakota to the golf course.  On that special day, Dakota got to get behind the wheel and drive a golf cart.  This was the first time he had ever had the opportunity to drive anything!  You can imagine that for several days (or weeks) he had a huge smile plastered on his face.  To this day he still lights up when he talks about going to the golf course and driving the golf cart.

When I arrived at Ranken Jordan for our most recent golf clinic I was greeted by a smiling Dakota.  He told me he had "news" to tell me.  His news, much to my surprise and happiness, was that he had passed the written driving test and he received his learner's permit!  Given the relationship we have developed I naturally had to make the standard joke about staying off the sidewalks.  In reality I could not have been any happier to hear of his achievement.  I am very, very proud of him for reaching this accomplishment and also that he was so excited to tell me about it.

Through many of our conversations, both during golf clinics and outside of that time, Dakota has talked about the important role golf has come to play in his life.  He has mentioned how golf can "turn a bad day into a good day" and how it has allowed him to get to know other people that he normally would not have socialized with.  The game has also shown him that trying something new, even something he initially thought was "stupid and boring," can actually be enjoyable.  And after the news he delivered this past week, golf has shown him that something he may have initially thought was impossible was indeed within his reach.

Golf is playing a much bigger role in the lives of these amazing kids than most people realize.  Yes, we are teaching them that they can play the game of a lifetime regardless of the medical issues they may be dealing with.  And yes they are seeing physical, emotional, and social benefits from being involved with a sport.  But it also shows them that they can do things they may not have realized they would be able to.  Just a simple game hitting and chasing a little white ball has led to something this important in a young man's life.  Golf provided this opportunity.  Congratulations, Dakota, I am very proud of you.  But I am still staying off the sidewalks.

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!