Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bully and the Bull Terrier

If you like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and you haven't heard of Ricardo "The Bully" Lamas, then you probably will very soon. He has a fight in Las Vegas on August 9 versus Danny Castillo in WEC 42. Lamas is undefeated as a lightweight and coming off a huge win against Bart Palaszewski, which I wrote about here. I began photographing Lamas for a photo essay and story I did last fall; that was before he joined the WEC. He asked me to take photos of him with his English Bull Terrier, Chico, who gained weight since I last saw him. I took some photos of them yesterday in Westmont, IL. Some of these photos will appear on his website. Lamas is one of the most self-motivated athletes I've met. He is humble and always seeking to improve. I would not be surprised if he becomes one of the best in the world.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Real Ken Green

I want thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and support that have come my way these past few days. The golf community is like one big family, and it means so much to me to have all of you wonderful people by my side.

The pain and emptiness of losing my brother Billy, my girlfriend Jeannie and my dog Nip are enormous. They were always supportive and loving and stuck by me during my struggles. Not having them around is a tremendous loss and leaves a void that will never be filled.

I don't know if I will ever play on the Tour again. But I do know this: I am so proud to have been a professional golfer for 30 years. I am proud of my five Tour wins and to have represented my country in the 1989 Ryder Cup. That will never be taken away from me.

You can't always choose what happens to you in life; but you can choose how you deal with these setbacks. I'm not giving up.

Thank you,
Ken Green

The words above are from a man who lost his brother, girlfriend, dog, home, and leg in the time it takes to hit a golf ball. They are words from the most honest professional golfer who is also the most misunderstood.

William Green was the brother driving the RV on a highway in east Mississippi when the right front tire blew. Jeanne Hodgin is the girlfriend who lived and traveled in the RV because she loved Ken Green. So did Nip, the German Shepherd who Ken rescued in chest-high water from the jaws of a hungry alligator during a game of fetch. These three lost their lives in broad daylight when the RV crashed into a tree. Ken was airlifted to University Medical Center in Jackson. At the time he was in critical condition.

Ken has been a close friend with my father for decades, and the two had spoken just before the accident. My father had told me Ken was happy he was finally getting his life back together. He was paying off his debt that resulted when he lost custody of his children in a bitter divorce in the 1990s. He suffered depression and nagging golf injuries. He was not liked by many of his peers and golf fans. They thought he had a cavalier attitude. They thought he disrespected the game and tradition with his honest comments and free-spirit. The media often reported negative issues about Ken. They weren’t covering the tournaments he played and sponsored for sick children. They never knew how much he loved his own children and how much the divorces hurt him. They never saw the autographed posters he mailed to my brother and I with words of encouragement. They never saw a man living in a RV with the courage to realize his dream as a pro golfer despite all the naysayers and debt that piled up like a bunch of bogies. Nevertheless, that all seemed to fade away in recent years. This year alone, he had already earned $123,906 in 11 tournaments on the Champions Tour. At age 50, he was in good spirits. If there was anyone who deserved a break in life, it was Ken Green….

I called Ken today, and he answered in a weak voice. He was suffering physical pain from having his lower right leg amputated a few days earlier. I apologized to him for not calling for such a long time. I did not know what to say…. What do you say to a man who has lost everything that is important to him? What do you say if you haven’t talked to that very same man in years? I had not seen or talked to Green since my high school days in Danbury, Conn. We both graduated from Danbury High School.

In second grade I had visited Ken at a tournament in Pebble Beach with my family. I had followed him around our local public course, Richter Park, in Danbury. Mark Calcavecchia and other tour pros were so accessible. I attribute a lot of that to Ken. At one of those tournaments I had gotten an autograph from Payne Stewart just after he hit a fairway shot on the seventh hole. Stewart died a year later, having just won the U.S. Open.

Life is “weird.” That is the word Ken used to describe his situation. “When you think about the itinerary of your life, this is not something you think about,” he told me. He was anxious to get back on the golf course, and was frustrated knowing he would need seven weeks after the surgeries before he could even begin physical therapy. “If it (the leg) is not gonna work, then take it off so I can play,” he had told his good friend Kevin Richardson before his right leg was amputated.

Most of our conversation wasn’t about the accident. Ken wanted to know what I was doing. He wanted to catch up after so many years. It is a funny thing about life. It took a tragedy for me to give Ken a call. It took a tragedy for newspapers and television stations to publicize Ken’s statement at the top. It took a tragedy for golf fans to see the Real Ken Green.

The PGA Tour has established a trust fund to help Ken Green’s financial burden. If you would like to make a donation, checks should be made out to “Ken Green Trust” and mailed to the address below:

Ken Green Trust
PO Box 1811
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004-1811

If you would like to send a get-well message to Ken Green, you can do so through his good friend and manager Kevin Richardson, at the address below.

Ken Green
c/o Kevin Richardson
1551 Forum Place, Suite 300F
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Danbury and Local Residents: There will be a Friends of Green benefit golf tournament at Ridgewood Country Club (Danbury, CT) on Sept. 28, 2009. It costs $5,000 per foursome, $1,250 per player. Mark Calcavecchia and Curtis Strange have already committed to play in this tournament. The proceeds will help Ken's financial burden.
Contact Mike Goodman at (203)733-4870.

Friday, June 5, 2009

40 is the New 30 ... for Chicago Basketball

Even though the Bulls are not still playing, the products of the Michael Jordan era are. In fact, the 40 and over league that Jordan sponsors began today in the West Loop. I am friends with the league's director, who asked me to take photos throughout the next few months. Below are a few I took. I'll continue posting more photos like these throughout the summer.