News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Rub of the Green

June 6, 2010

Rub of the Green: An inspiring walk of 1,000 miles

TERRE HAUTE — Watching the young man on the TV screen move from place to place was like watching the human body battle itself. It seemed as though his arms and legs each wanted to go in separate directions, as he flailed about with only a cane to steady himself.

I immediately felt sympathy for this poor fellow, anyone would, especially those who have endured physical problems brought about by accidents or disease. As it turned out, it would appear that sympathy was the last thing D. J. Gregory needed.

He is one of more than three-quarters of a million people who are afflicted with cerebral palsy. After he was born, his parents were advised that he would probably spend his life in a wheelchair since his feet were almost pointed backward. It took five surgeries before D. J. could stand. After that he graduated to a walker which soon needed wheels, then to crutches and after that two canes. Finally, after “years of practice and thousands of falls” he needed only a single cane.

D.J.’ s dad took him to see his first PGA tournament, the Greater Greensboro Open, when he was 12 years old. Ken Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open Champion, came along and offered him a cart ride to get additional autographs and then allowed him to come up to the television tower situated behind the 18th green where he met Venturi’s telecasting partner, Jim Nance. D.J.’ s father took him to Greensboro every year and Venturi would always invite him to the T.V. tower. He even kept in touch with Venturi after Ken’s retirement. In the meanwhile, he and Jim Nance became the best of friends.

It was Nance who said to Gregory, “I know you want to write a book about the Tour, so why don’t you write an outline for Tim Finchem stating how you would go about it?” D.J. protested, “I doubt if the PGA Commissioner would have time to be interested.”

Nance came back with a pledge to hand deliver D.J.’ s proposal, which Finchem readily accepted.

D.J. proposed that he would walk every round of every event on the PGA Tour with a different player. Further, he would interview players and write about them on the tour’s website.

Of course, planning such a herculean task and actually carrying it to fruition are two different things, especially when every step presents a challenge. Beginning with the Mercedes Benz Championship played on the hilly Island Course at Kapalua on the island of Maui, D.J. would get a rugged initiation to his odyssey, which would last from the first week of January through the second week of November.

Of course, that was if his legs could withstand such a grueling ordeal. It didn’t take long for D. J.’ s walk with PGA’s golf stars to take on a life of its own.

Luckily, D. J. had Boo Weekly with whom to walk on the first leg of his sojourn. Hailing from Milton, Florida, Boo was eight months away from creating a sensation in Ryder Cup competition when he galloped off one tee “giddy up” style with his driver between his legs. Boo was a good ol’ boy who wrestled alligators and was kayoed within fifteen seconds in a prizefight with an orangutan. In addition, Weekly had displayed one of the finest golf swings on the PGA Tour.

After Boo had posted an 80 for the first round, D. J. was afraid that Weekly would be a “no show” for round two. There was no need for worry. Boo showed up and said, “Listen, golf is just a game, it ain’t life or death. If I tell you I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it.”

 Weekly already had won two tournaments.

As the weeks progressed, those who witnessed D. J.’ s amazing quest included Weekly’s high school teammate, Heath Slocum, Shawn Micheel, Bob Tway, Jeff Quinney, Chris Dillard, Lucas Glover, Brandt Snedeker, and Aaron Baddeley. Also, Mark Wilson, J. J. Henry, Kenny Perry, Mark Calcavecchia, Briny Baird, Bubba Watson, Jerry Kelly, Robert Gamez, Jack Johnson, Jason Bohn, David Duval, Jim Furyk, and Jonathan Byrd.

Others included Paul Goydos, Sturat Appleby, Steve Marino, Kevin Streelman, Rich Beem, Peter Lonard, Sean O’Hair, Carl Pettersson, Jason Wagner, Stewart Cink, Davis Love, III, Ken Duke and Martin Laird.

Also, Ben Crane, Fred Funk, Dudley Hart, Woody Austin, Chez Reavie, George McNeill, Olin Browne, Trey Matteson, and Jason Gore. A total of forty-five players you might call “cream of the crop of the PGA Tour.”

When reading “walking With Friends” you realize what an inspiration D.J. Gregory has been to so many, and in turn, D. J. himself has also been inspired by the stories, actions and exploits of countless others in regard to his untiring attention to raise consciousness and money to battle CP.

For instance, when he asked Kenny Perry, who had become a special friend, if he would mind donating a couple of golf gloves and maybe a golf ball or two to a silent auction to benefit United Cerebral Palsy, what Perry donated were: five signed gloves, three signed hats, a dozen signed golf balls, an autographed driver and the autographed golf bag Perry’s caddy carried when Kenny won the Memorial and the Buick Open.

The interaction among D. J. and the professionals with whom he walked make for an unforgettable book that gives the readers an inside look at players on the PGA Tour and how they reacted to an individual for whom the word handicapped certainly does not apply.

Rich Beem was another special friend although to hear some of his comments you might not think so. Golf fans were often aghast when they heard some of the obnoxious remarks Beem directed toward D.J.

At the conclusion of D.J.’ s personal tour he had walked every round of every official event on the PGA Tour amounting to 3,256 holes that added up to 1,000 miles of walking plus another 800 miles of travel. He fell 29 times. D.J.’ s story is definitely a poignant one. His parents deserve much credit for raising a son just as they would have raised one who never experienced the roadblocks that D. J. has had to endure. And of course, it takes an outstanding individual to “chase his dreams” on the PGA Tour.

If you have time to read just one book during the next year, I doubt if you could read a better one than “Walking with Friends” by D. J. Gregory with Steve Eubanks.

For someone to walk 1,000 miles over the terrain D. J. Gregory traveled is certainly unbelievable. He summed up his feat as follows.

“If my story can help someone else reach a little higher, run a little faster, try a little harder or stick with it a little longer, then every step I took will have been worth it.”

• • •

In the “oops” department, that was long hitting Nick Meneely who was incorrectly identified in a prior column. In addition to pounding some tape measure shots, Nick has also improved his scoring as evidenced by some sub par efforts. Another big hitter on the summer expeditions was Lyman Busard, a Rose Hulman graduate, whose name was misspelled.

Dirk Weyls is one of four genial gentlemen who man the pro shop at River Bend Golf Course at the Landing. Others are Matt Norris, Tom Creasey and Chris Snedeker.

• Tip of the week — If you’re hooking the ball, weaken your left hand grip (for right handed players) by turning the wrist counter clockwise until the thumb is on top of the shaft, then you can turn the wrist back a little until you find your best position. Good golf is often an experimental procedure.

Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.

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