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Gage and Green: A grouping beyond golf

POSTED July 31, 2013
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


                                   Gage and Green: A grouping beyond golf


            TORRINGTON - It was the most intriguing grouping.  Not the winning grouping, but the pair that caught your eye. The pair with enough story lines to fill up your note pad and your day.  

            Bobby Gage, the one-time local wonder out of Green Woods Golf Club who made it all the way to the PGA Tour and still has hopes of making a splash in the golfing world. He was the one walking.

            Joined by Ken Green, a man with a life of immense Shakespearian dimensions. The golfer who experienced the highest of highs winning five tournaments on the PGA Tour while earning a spot on the Ryder Cup team.  The man who lost nearly everything including a wife in an acrimonious divorce, his son of a drug overdose his brother, girlfriend, dog and lower portion of his right leg in a motor home crash. He was the one riding.

            There was a lot of golf in this group Wednesday on a day doused in sunshine with a side order of gentle winds in the final round of the Connecticut Open at Torrington Country Club. And much of it was good golf.

            The former two-time winner, Green, limping around on the hilly terrain, carded a par-72 to finish the three-day event at 2-over 218, tied for 23rd, nine shots behind the winning total of 209. Gage, struggled a bit with a balky putter and posted a 2-over 74 to finish at 220, tied for 27th place.

            There was a lot more than golf here, however. At least the golf of this tournament. Both players have their eyes on the future. This was a stop on the way. But first for the golf.

            Gage walked off the 18th hole in disappointed mode. The fit and trim 48-year old hit the ball long and solid from tee to green. On this day, Torrington’s at times diabolical greens got the best of the battle.

            Consistently Gage found himself with makeable birdie putts in the 5 to 15 foot range only to come up empty.

            “I usually putt well, this is the first time in a long time I have putted poorly,” said Gage.
“I just didn’t make anything. For three days I was pleased with my ball-striking. I really should have been contending for this tournament.”

            Gage only plays three tournaments a year these days – Connecticut Open, Jersey Open and Met Open (N.Y.) where he has finished in second place two straight years. This was his first tournament since July 9.

Instead he is devoting most of his time to teaching at Forrest Gate CC in New Jersey and Candlewood in Connecticut.

“When I do something I’m all in and my businesses are going well,” added Gage.

But Gage can still play and wants to play. Can you say Champions Tour? In two years he will be eligible and that is where he is looking down the golfing road.

“My game is good enough and I’m in great shape,” Gage said. “I’m going to throw my hat in the ring.’

Gage is about golf and you root for him because he is local and he is a good guy. When you turn your attention to Green it is hard to grasp it all. A career of excellence drowned out too soon in the divorce and depression.

The tragedy that followed and clung to him like the smell of wood smoke to a jacket. In 2009 Green’s motor home crashed in Mississippi killing his brother Williams, girlfriend Jeanne Hodgin and dog Nip.  His lower right leg also needed to be amputated and he wears prosthesis now.

In 2010 his son Hunter died of a drug overdose. How much are you going to throw on a person? How much are you going to give him to handle? How much else can you put Ken Green through?

But Green has checked in instead of checking out.

“There was a time in my life where I didn’t handle (adversity) well like my divorce. I didn’t handle it well,” Green admits. “I said the next time I have a mishap I’m going to be so focused on life not beating me. I’m going to focus on something good.”

Green, a life-hardened yet game 55 year-old, has his own mission. Golf is part of it but it is the means not the end. He wants to play in every city on the Champions Tour and give everybody a smile the let them know it is okay to cry.”

Somewhere Jim Valvano is listening, smiling and crying himself. In tremendous nerve pain since the accident, a pain he compares to having the nerve of a tooth exposed and experiencing that 24 hours a day, Green recently had an operation that has reduced the pain considerably.

“I’m really psyched. The last surgery cut the pain in about half,” said Green. “I’m playing more now, about three or four times a week. “I’m not even close enough to be strong enough to play my best yet but I’m psyched about trying to accomplish something.”

Oh yeah, and Green is not talking about just playing.

“I’d be lying if I told you that if I didn’t have a good tournament I could win sometime,” he said. “I don’t know if it will happen but it might.”

There is a long way to go here. He lauded the Torrington course – “As a golf course it is very good although on the fifth and 12th hole the average golfer is going to have problems. But I enjoy the layout. This course accomplishes what many don’t. Every day the players are going to have to go out and play good shots on good holes. Whoever wins this tournament is going to be the one who thinks the best on the last five or six holes.  

But Ken Green was honest in admitting in his mind the course got the better of him. For now.

“This course is too hard for me with the hills.” Green said. “There are two really awful holes for me (5 and 12) and with the side hills it is very difficult for me to walk. Any sort of side hill, downhill lie, it’s all about angle. You have to create a new swing. With normal legs I never thought twice about any layout.”

Think perspective folks. Green was 2-over, a score most would grease the local pro’s palms to register. But this is a former Ryder Cupper. A golfer who finished 7th in the 1996 U.S. Open.

Green hit many shots even the current PGA Tour players would take in a heartbeat. But, it was a difficult trek. He used a golf cart and at times struggled with stance on the side hill lies. There was the limping gait to each ball.  While Gage strode purposely to every ball, Green was clearly a work in pained progress at times.

But, he was there. He is feeling better, he is getting better. Ken Green wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea when he was playing, the demeanor often falling below the quality of his game.

But you root for him now. Only the coldest of hearts would deny that. His has been a journey that makes you shudder and thank somebody it wasn’t your trip.

He wants to give people a smile and let them now it is okay to cry.

“You let the dog lick you, take your best foot forward and move on,” he said.

There were a lot of smiles for Ken Green Wednesday and this week at Torrington Country Club. Maybe a tear or two although they were more hidden. He is on a mission and it has already started with great success.

Ask Gage.

“It was a treat (to play with Green),” Gage said. “I was very pleased when I saw the pairing.”

Bobby Gage and Ken Green. There was a whole lot going on in this group, a lot of golf and a lot of life. A good 18 holes for all.

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