Pro Golfer Ken Green Gets Personal at PGCCKen Green’s name is written on the wall of golf history. Along the way he earned a reputation as a bit of a spirited maverick on the course but he is nevertheless a seasoned golfer with over 500 events to his name. He’s racked up five PGA Tour wins; he played with Arnold Palmer in the 1997 Masters Tournament, he competed in the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, and the Open Championship and has represented the United States in the Ryder Cup alongside Paul Azinger, Tom Kite, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Watson. Green also made history as the first player to play the Champions Tour as an amputee.
In June of 2009 Ken was injured when his motor home blew a tire and veered off the road, killing his brother Billy, his love Jeanne and his beloved canine companion Nip, whose life he previously saved when he wrestled Nip free from an alligator in Florida. The accident took the three loves of his life; it took everything short of his actual life. He’s said of the event that "I lost the three best friends I had on the planet," continuing “I'm never going to see them or talk to them again. There isn't one day I don't miss them, and that's never going to change.”
Nobody would have been surprised if he was unable to recover from the physical battery and emotional devastation of a loss like that. But he did. He fought fire with fire, unearthing an almost superhuman focus to get back on the course. When doctors had to come around to a decision about how to proceed with his leg, which was now supported by steel rods and screws, he had one question: Would he be able to golf competitively again? There were two answers. If he kept his leg, the short answer was “No.” Amputating his right leg below the knee would allow him to get a prosthetic limb and learn to golf again, so he made instantaneous choice. His leg had to go.
Clearly this is a man with an intense love for golf; the game has always been an anchor for him and there’s a lot to learn from a story like his, which is why he decided to share it with our students at PGCC Orlando. Students spent some time with Ken when he visited Brendon Elliott’s Psychology of Golf class. “I speak from my heart. Maybe that’s not typical. I don’t go up there with an agenda but my underlying message is always that you should enjoy what you’re doing first and foremost. If you’re not happy, you’re not going to be able to reach the pinnacle of success the way you could doing something you love to do.”
Brendon Elliott, Instructor for the Psychology of Golf class shared that “Ken spoke at an event I did a few years back and I knew he would be an excellent guest. I knew that his message would resonate with the kids.” Speaking engagements, although they are infrequent, serve a reaffirming purpose for Ken as well. “The feeling I get when I’m speaking, or at clinics, is the best. I feel like it’s good for me, I feel a sense of accomplishment coming back from the accident, from a setback like that. I feel useful.” Green said. “When people appreciate you and you feel useful, that’s a great thing. I got thrown a major curveball that I couldn’t have possibly expected. I still have bad days, everybody does, but I’m happy with how I’ve handled it. I think I’ve done a good job.”
Golfers tend to have career evolutions, first they learn the game, then they play the game, and then in some way or another they teach others what they learned from the game. It is safe to say that even though he is still playing well, he’s tiptoeing into another phase of his career; education and outreach.
He shared that “There was never a doubt in my mind that golf was going to be it for me.” And when you asked him about how early he started playing, even dropping out of school to pursue the game? He responds simply, “I can honestly say that golf was my passion. I had no idea it would go this way, I didn’t know if I would make it as a player but there was never any question for me. I always knew that golf was it. It is what I loved, and what I would do.” That’s a feeling that our students can definitely relate to. “His message was to never give up on your goals, no matter what life brings you” explained Brendan Elliot, “the students thought he was great. He was very real and honest.”
Success is an impossible formula to decode but at the root of every successful story you’ll find the same element; insatiable passion driven by love. “You look at some athletes and ask yourself, ‘why do some people make it and others don’t?’ I think it’s a matter of heart.” Green explains. “You can see an athlete who may not seem especially talented, but they’re successful. It’s because you can see and feel how much they love it, where others are such naturally gifted athletes but maybe they don’t seem to attain a level of success because their heart isn’t in it. At the end of the day you need to ask yourself, how big is your heart?”
That’s a question worth asking ourselves; how big IS our heart? “The game of golf inspired me. I grew up poor. I didn’t have a lot but I managed to play and that brought me to another level. Golf has always inspired me.”
Inspiration is his work now. He’s a man with a lot of heart; he’s always been real and honest, but it takes an especially grounded man to find his purpose and pay it forward.