CASHIERS, N.C. – Maybe Kevin King should come back as a doctor in his next life. In the past 10 years, the 56-year-old from Bluffton, S.C., has undergone 12 surgeries.
There has been a neck fusion, four right hip operations, two shoulder surgeries, a torn tendon in his thumb and in January, he broke his left ankle in three places during a freakish domestic accident that resulted in the insertion of a plate and seven screws.
“I’m surprised they (insurance companies) haven’t cut me out,” said King, after shooting a disappointing 10-over 82 during the first round of stroke-play qualifying on Saturday in the 2013 USGA Senior Amateur at Wade Hampton Golf Club.
“I’ve taped [my ankle] like a [University of South Carolina] Gamecock football player. I put a brace on it. I put numbing cream on it.”
Fortunately, King can still play competitive golf, although he said there’s a lot of discomfort. The surgically repaired hip is all but healed, but the ankle remains sore and it has caused him problems with his long-iron and fairway-metal game. Driving the ball isn’t an issue, but because he has trouble getting to his left side, it’s difficult for King to get shots in the air from the fairway with longer clubs.
This winter, the plate and seven screws will need to be removed to relieve the pain.
It was the hip injury that forced King off the Champions Tour in 2007. When he turned 50, King decided he would try professional golf again. He played on mini-tours for three years in the early 1980s – not long after graduating from the University of North Carolina – before getting into the real estate business in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
But King, who qualified for the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., as an amateur, felt he could compete against many of the players he once played against in college. Not a surprising frame of mind, considering his experience starting in seven U.S. Amateurs and seven U.S. Mid-Amateurs, advancing as far as the final 16 in each. He earned his card through Q-School in the fall of 2006 and played in six events – his best finish a tie for 30th at the Commerce Bank Championship – before his hip gave out in late August after the Boeing Classic near Seattle.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could play with those guys,” said King, who regained his amateur status two years ago. “I had a ball with it. I made my expenses. I just couldn’t travel [after the injury]. I couldn’t walk and play golf after that for an extended period of time.”
Since returning to amateur golf, King, who won the 1989 South Carolina Amateur and was his state association’s player of the year in 1988 and 1993, has qualified for two USGA championships: last year’s Mid-Amateur (missed cut) and this year’s Senior Amateur.
On Saturday, King employed good friend and 2013 USA Walker Cup Team member Todd White as his caddie. White has known King for a quarter-century from South Carolina events, and the Hilton Head Island High School history teacher decided to support his friend during weekend qualifying. White will head back home on Sunday night for work, so King will have another friend on his bag if he makes match play.
King went to National Golf Links of America with his family earlier this month to watch White help the USA reclaim the Walker Cup, 17-9. White, 46, earned a 4-and-3 Sunday singles victory over Rhys Pugh, of Wales.
“He played a lot better than he scored,” said White of King’s play in the steady rain. “Kevin is a good friend. It was really nice of him and his family to come support me at the Walker Cup.”
King said the conditions on Saturday were the worst he’d played in since the 2007 British Senior Open at Muirfield. He was putting out on his final hole when play was suspended due to unplayable course conditions at 2:38 p.m.
“It was brutal out there,” said King, who planned to ice his ankle and elevate it after eating some lunch. “But tomorrow is another day. The scores are high. If I play well tomorrow, I can still make match play. That’s the goal.”
King’s got a winning mindset. He's just hoping his body can keep up.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.