One-legged golfer to the injured in Boston: 'Your life's not over'

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 17, 2013 


Todd Gay of Dublin, Ga., gets himself out of a trap near the No. 16 hole Wednesday afternoon during the Pro-Am at the 45th RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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The only one-legged man playing in Wednesday's pro-am at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing has spent most of his life showing others how to put their best foot forward.

Todd Gay, 45, of Dublin, Ga., was 15 when he was stricken with a rare childhood cancer, undifferentiated sarcoma.

In a matter of weeks, he went from being a kid who played ball in every season to one with his left leg amputated above the knee.

"He never skipped a beat," said his childhood friend Bill Brown, who was in the large, cheering crowd following the pro-am party led by touring pro Tim Clark and amateur Dr. Nelson S. Carswell Jr., who has played in the pro-am in every year of the Heritage's history.

Gay said he lost more than a leg when he was a teenager.

"Sports is who I was," he said.

After months on crutches and learning to walk with a prosthetic leg, Gay found himself shagging golf balls while working at a driving range.

Brown remembers the first time they played golf together.

"He was 18 or 19 and he had a set of Haig Ultras with aluminum shafts," he said. "He couldn't bust 100. Now he'll break 80 on our course (Dublin Country Club)."

Gay credits his golf pro, Lee Newsome. He broke Gay's game down to nothing and rebuilt it. Newsome was carrying Gay's bag Wednesday as his special pupil walked a course for only the second time.

Brown has seen his friend fall over on the course. But he said Gay has found something all golfers must find -- balance and tempo. As a former University of Georgia player and 2006 Georgia amateur champion, Brown knows how hard it has been for Gay.

"What you're seeing today is the culmination of a lot of hard work," he said.

Touring pro Tim Clark of South Africa was impressed with Gay. He said he's played with a person with one leg who had a 1 or 2 handicap, and someone with no right arm who had an 11 handicap.

"People come back from war or whatever and they fall in love with golf, and they can do well," he said. "It's a testament to the game."

For Gay, it is a testament to the right attitude toward life.

"You have a decision to make, once something like that happens to you," he said. "You can dwell on the bad and feel sorry for yourself, or you can look forward to the rest of your life and take a positive attitude and make the best out of it."

He went through Georgia and came out a teacher and coach, like his mother, a retired math teacher. His father is a retired state trooper who actually played one in the movie "Smokey and the Bandit," flying onto the bed of an 18-wheeler and saying, "Son, you reckon you can let me off at the next exit?"

"I've had an unbelievable life," Gay said. "I've been able to go to college, have friends, marry a wonderful woman, have two children."

His heart is with all those injured Monday by bombs at the Boston Marathon. Many have had amputations.

"They're going to have a rough time," Gay said. "It's tough. It's a tough adjustment."

But he said joys that cannot be seen today will come into their lives.

"Look at the good that has come since this happened to me," Gay said. "I can speak, I can sing, I can do all these other things that I never knew I could do. I'm now a salesperson. I would never in a million years be doing what I'm doing if it hadn't been for this."

He said he learned how to talk to people and make them feel at ease because they stared at his prosthetic leg or asked him questions.

"I would tell the people in Boston: Just remember, your life's not over," Gay said. "You pick up and you move on. You change and adjust. That's life. Just like in golf. Some days you've got a better swing than you do other days. You know what you do? You go out and you make it happen."

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