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GOLF / MAL FLORENCE : Amputees Not Ready to Be Handicapped

June 30, 1991|MAL FLORENCE

Mike Hodge says he has experienced sky diving, whitewater rafting and water-skiing, adding that golf is equally challenging--and intimidating.

Nonetheless, Hodge, who has a muscular upper body, had some decent tee shots Thursday at Los Robles Greens golf course. Nothing unusual except that Hodge's legs were amputated while he was a Marine in Vietnam in 1968.

On this day, Hodge wasn't fitted with prostheses. So, balancing on stumps, he addressed the ball.

"I don't have a big arc, so I have to use a baseball swing," said Hodge, who lives in Torrance and is a risk manager for an insurance company. "A lot of it (power) comes from my arms and shoulders."

Hodge, 41, made adjustments, as did other players in the Western Regional Amputee tournament that ended Saturday in Thousand Oaks.

The players were identified according to their disability, such as BK's or AK's, amputations below or above the knee. Hodge and Dick Bell were designated as double AK's, the loss of both legs above the knee.

Bell, 61, from Regina in Canada's Saskatchewan province, sat on a stool while hitting shots. He braced himself on crutches to putt.

James Taylor, 36, of Longview, Wash., was the only player in the field who lost parts of both arms. He gripped clubs securely with his hook-like prostheses, using rubber bands to keep the hooks from separating. And, like Bell, he displayed consistent accuracy.

Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the tournament was the upbeat nature of the players.

The average weekend golfer grouses about his lie, bad luck, or throws clubs when a shot goes astray. The amputees take their golf seriously, but good-naturedly. They are happy merely to be playing.

And some players, such as, Joseph Ferreira, 56, of Watsonville, Calif., are very skillful.

He proudly showed a card identifying him as Western Regional champion in the AK division in 1974, '76, '77, '82 and '83.

And in the first round of the tournament, Ferreira, a 10-handicap player, holed a 50- to 60-yard chip shot for a birdie.

Ada Myers, 46, who lives in Thousand Oaks, is one of the few women who compete in such tournaments.

She lost her left leg above the knee in a boating accident in 1967, only three months after her first husband was killed in Vietnam.

Since she started playing regularly three years ago, Myers has pared her scores from the 150s to the 130s, to the 90s and occasional 80s. She says she has a 19.4 handicap rating.

Moreover, she is the two-time women's national amputee champion and won an international tournament last year in Wales.

"I formed a support group in 1984 for Ventura County called Amputees Caring Together," Myers said. "This support group knew about a golf organization that wanted to put on a regional tournament in this area."

Myers, who owned a hair and facial salon and a travel agency at the time, said she became extremely involved.

"I had never played with amputees, and ended up loving it, the camaraderie and competition and little 10-cent side bets," she said. "These people and their wives are the most wonderful people I have ever met.

"However, I was really bothered because across the nation there are only about 30 women who compete in amputee golf, and there are over a million and a half amputees in the United States--half of them women.

"But I think I know why there are so few women playing. Women feel more awkward and gawky. I wanted to show them that you could look cute, you can play golf and it's OK if you're a little bit clumsy. And if you fall down, it's all right."

Myers said she is basically self-taught because teaching professionals wanted her to use her lower body and twist with her hips, which was physically impossible for her.

"My husband, George, bought me golf videos, and then I went out and tried to do it my way," Myers said. "I started improving and I've cut off about 60 strokes in the last three years."

Myers likes to play courses that challenge her, such as those on the Monterey Peninsula.

"I shot 102 at Pebble Beach, 100 at Spyglass, 104 at Spanish Bay and 98 at Poppy Hills," she said. "I came home and said, 'I can play anywhere in the world.' "

Myers uses only her arms to hit the ball, not benefiting from the power that comes from a full hip, or shoulder turn.

There are problems, though.

"If the ball is below my feet on a very steep hill, then basically I'm balancing on my good leg and I've got my bad leg off to the side trying to forget it's there," she said. "However, that's a tough shot even for someone with all of their limbs. I just have to concentrate harder."

Asked about the stability of her prosthesis, Myers said: "The knee is like a door hinge. To make it lock, you're doing it with your hip because the leg fits all the way up to your crotch. You actually sit on it. That's why you're kind of locked.

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