Crash deepens a tale of debt, drink and demons
Sunday 14 June 2009
As if there was not enough perspective already swirling around the professional fairways – what with Amy Mickelson's recent diagnosis with breast cancer – last Tuesday Paul Casey was given further reminder that this week's US Open is the major thing but not the only thing.
Casey was having his first taste of Bethpage Black when the mobile of his coach, Peter Kostis, went off. It was Mark Calcavecchia ringing to relay the news that Ken Green, also in the Kostis stable, had been involved in a tragic car accident in Mississippi.
The former Ryder Cup player had, in fact, been the lucky one of three; Green's brother, Billy, and Green's long-time girlfriend, Jeanne Hodgin, were killed after a burst tyre led to a collision with a tree. But, naturally, it didn't seem that way as the 50-year-old lay there in a Jackson hospital grieving for his lost loved ones as the medics tried to deduce whether they had saved his right leg.
"When is Ken going to catch a break?" Kostis asked. "If there was someone who needed one, it's him. But he never got it. How much pain does someone have to go through?"
That was a question most in the golfing family, including Casey, were still grappling with yesterday as the wait went on to see if the three-hour operation had been a success. Certainly Green's tale of depression, debt and drinking is all too notorious within the locker room. If anybody could ever be credited with preparing the gentleman's game for the hell-raiser that is John Daly, then Green is that man.
Indeed, his Wild Thing antics in the Eighties earned him PGA Tour punishments that Daly himself would consider costly. In all Green drew the ire of the fining committee on more than 20 occasions, most famously for swigging beer when partnering Arnold Palmer at the 1997 Masters (Green eventually had the fine rescinded when he claimed – falsely as he later confessed – the said beer was non-alcoholic).
There were other bizarre capers such as when he smuggled some pals in his boot up Magnolia Lane and into Augusta and the countless times he would bet other pros about what he could hit from his hotel window. Legend has it that Green would win. Often.
But there was a darker edge to this outspoken rebel's moods as well. As Seve Ballesteros would testify. It was at the 1989 Masters that Green called the Spaniard for taking an erroneous drop and after that he was destined to be a marked man at that year's Ryder Cup. By the time Jose Maria Canizares beat him for the point which ensured Europe would retain the trophy, Green had become such a reviled character in the Belfry crowd that his team-mate Curtis Strange quipped: "It was so close out there, we were even cheering for Ken Green."
All too soon, however, the acrimony turned to sympathy as Green plunged into years of clinical depression which, by his own admission, "almost saw me ending it all". By then he had undergone a torrid divorce and custody battle and the "demons" which followed him on to the course "would be screaming in my brain telling me I was going to miss". The drinking and gambling had deteriorated as inevitably as his finances and, owing £300,000 to the taxman, he was without a card and without a prayer.
Perhaps this is why Kostis referred to Green's re-emergence as "one of the all-time greatest comebacks in the history of golf". In 2003 Green won back his card and though he has struggled to eke out a living since, Kostis said: "Ken was starting to feel better about himself and his game." Last Sunday, he tied for 37th in a Champions Tour event in Texas, and that night on his way home, he sent Calcavecchia a text – "12 miles down, 1,200 to go". The former Open champion replied: "Take it easy, take it slow, drive safe."
"That's the last thing I told him," said Calcavecchia. "All of a sudden a tyre blows and everything changes. For that to happen after all he's gone through... Now what's he going to do? Just think what he'll go through mentally. I can't imagine."
Tip of the week
No 5: the 'mickelson' flop-shot
Just when you thought your round couldn't get any worse, you short-side yourself with an impossible shot over a bunker to a tight pin position. However, do not despair. You too can play this shot just like the aforementioned Phil Mickelson.
Using your most lofted club, open your entire stance (feet, hips and shoulders) to the left (for right-handed golfers). Position the ball opposite the left heel and turn the club face in your hands to aim right of the target. The club head should now be flat-back on the ground with 80 degrees of loft.
With a full swing along the line of your body, let the club slide under the ball. Do not scoop or dig. The club should just bruise the grass under the ball. The ball will effortlessly soar into the air and drop like a stone on the green. Job done!
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey
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