SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Through those long, painful months of recovery, Ken Green focused on making another sweet swing on tour.
That came Friday when, after a hug from his sister Shelley and some "Go get 'ems," from his foursome, Green returned to the game he says pulled him through a year of unthinkable tragedy.
"The thought of trying to play the game, play inside the ropes, that's just kept me going," Green said.
Green and partner Mike Reid shot a 5-under 67 — Green met his goal of two birdies — in the opening round of the Legends of Golf at Savannah Harbor Golf Resort. That was good enough for a tie for 17th, five shots behind the leading teams of Mark O'Meara and Nick Price, and John Cook and Joey Sindelar.
More importantly for Green, he found hope he could succeed at the game he loves, one that helped him deal with the deaths of his brother, girlfriend and son since June.
"Golf saved my life," Green said simply.
William, his brother, and Jean Marie Hodgin, his longtime girlfriend, were killed when they were traveling in an RV that blew a tire, went down an embankment and crashed into an oak tree. The accident also killed Green's beloved German Shepherd, Nip.
Green's right leg was damaged so severely that doctors said his only chance of resuming a pro career was through amputation. He agreed and now plays with a prothesis in place of his lower leg.
As Green's mental and physical rehabilitation continued, there came another devastating blow — his 21-year-old son, Hunter, was found dead in his SMU dorm room last January. An autopsy showed Hunter died from a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.
Still, Green kept on fighting for this day. Now, he's pointing for even more.
"The thought that this can happen as gone from a seven (out of 10) to absolutely, this can be done," Green said.
Green's apprehension increased as his starting time approached. "I've got a bit of dry mouth," he said before slipping into a scorer's tent for water.
His play was choppy at first. His first two swings found bunkers and he struggled to reach greens, mostly picking up when Reid was in with a lower score in the better-ball competition.
"I'm starting to think I should've put another driver in and taken the putter out. I'm not using the damn thing," he said to fans walking off the eighth green.
Green's butterflies were obvious.
"First four or five holes, I think he was a little nervous, and certainly looked like it," said Price, whose team played alongside Green and Reid. "But we were pulling hard for him."
Things turned around on the ninth hole after a wayward tee shot. Green's approach from about 160 yards away stuck on the green. He raised his arms in celebration as the trailing gallery shouted congratulations.
Two holes later, Green bagged his first birdie. His third shot lipped out of the cup on the par-5 11th, leaving about 8 feet for birdie. That brought another hug from Shelley — "She came out of retirement as my caddie," Green said — and more cheers.
Green wasn't done. On the par-3 15th hole, he sunk a 12-footer for his second birdie to move the team to 5-under — and brought still another hug from Shelley.
A rough recount had Green 1-under par his last 10 holes, strong enough to boost his confidence about what could be ahead. He's got tentative plans to play in the 54-hole Dick's Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, N.Y., at the end of June.
"If I can get some practice and some work, it can be done," he said. "I can't tell you what that does for my spirit."
Green had several family members on hand to watch, including his brother-in-law, PGA Tour tournament director Slugger White. Many wore golf caps with "KG" on the front and "The Greatest Comeback Ever" on the side.
"Obviously, I'm not known for inspiring people throughout my career," Green joked. "It's a wonderful feeling that I've got the chance to do something nice and unique, whether it's for the game of golf or the disabled."
O'Meara was amazed that anyone could play so soon after enduring so much.
"June wasn't that long ago when the accident happened," he said. "And for him to come back the way he has eight, nine months time is very impressive."
Green worried over embarrassing the game with poor play. Instead, pros before and after his round came up to congratulate him and welcome him back.
"Hey, brother, how was it out there?" Peter Jacobsen said on the putting green.
Not too bad, Green thought.
"It just gives me so much more fight and desire to go ahead," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling. It's such a high."