Despite his nearly 30 years as a tour pro and his five PGA Tour victories, Ken Green expects to be "petrified" on the first tee Friday. That will only make his appearance that much more inspiring as he stands there on a prosthetic leg and an aching ankle.
"You know," he said at a news conference this week, "Ken Green and inspiration don't usually tie hand in hand."
This is a new phase for Green, who lost his right leg below the knee as a result of an SUV accident last June that killed his girlfriend, his brother and his dog. The 51-year-old will return to competition at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, the granddaddy of all Champions Tour events, in Savannah, Ga. He will be widely watched.
And he will be especially appreciated by those who know the challenges and possibilities involved. "I like people who defy the odds, get back in the saddle. No doubt about it, it's inspirational," said John Devine of Massapequa, an organizer and participant in Eastern Amputee Golf Association tournaments.
Devine, who lost a leg at the hip to a mortar shell in Vietnam, was confused at first when he heard that Ken Green would be playing in the Legends. There was a Ken Green who won the EAGA tournament at Bethpage Red in 2004, but he was a college kid. Then Devine - still exhilarated from finishing the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon in 2:01:11 Monday - said he was told about this Ken Green by fellow EAGA golfer Joe Babbino, who works at the Bethpage course.
"There's a lot of pain and suffering in that story," Devine said.
That story also includes the death of Green's 21-year-old son Hunter, found in his dorm room at Southern Methodist University in January.
Green, who endured clinical depression and stormy relationships with golf officials during his prime, said he is fortunate that he doesn't remember anything about the crash that occurred in Mississippi after a Champions Tour event in Texas.
"You have to fight the fight," he said during his news conference alongside Mike Reid, his partner in the better-ball event. A month after the crash, Reid texted Green to say he would not consider finding another partner, adding, "We can beat most of these teams on three legs, so get your game ready."
That has been a huge struggle. Green was discouraged about his practice. What he calls his good ankle was damaged in the accident and it has flared up (it didn't help that he had pneumonia this year). But he made breakthroughs recently with Peter Kostis, the CBS analyst who has been his teacher for 27 years. Green figures he might be able to win a couple of holes for Reid.
"I was scared that I was doing the game of golf an injustice," Green said of his talks with his old peers he finally saw again this week. "Every one of them has said, 'It's just great that you're out here and playing. You're fighting the fight. Just go out and just do it.' "
That has been the credo around the EAGA, which will hold its championship at the Red Course June 25-26. Jeff Poplarski, a chiropractor in Amityville who has done many clinics for amputee golfers, said, "Prosthetic devices have come such a long way it's not a surprise anymore to see somebody do something like this. I think it's an inspiration, and a sign of the times in sports. Limitations are very few now."
It just takes some getting used to. Green realizes he's a different guy. "Well," he said, "I still think I'm incredibly good looking."