How would you react if, without warning, your legs were taken right out from under you?
If you were Bob Jordan, you’d persevere. You’d find a way to get out on the verdant links of Brambleton Regional Park Golf Course and continue to enjoy one of your favorite pastimes.
“It’s a way of challenging myself, to do something I used to love to do when I was standing,” says Jordan, 48, of Fairfax. “Now I just enjoy it in a different way.”
When the weather’s nice, Jordan is at Brambleton nearly every day, driving range balls, sharing a friendly round with friends, working on his game solo or competing in an organized league in which he is the only disabled player.
“He is pretty amazing, with his dedication,” says Dale Riggs, general manager at the Ashburn course. “He shows the other golfers that there’s no doubt he can keep up with them.”
Regaining his swing
It was 13 years ago last March when Jordan, then a 35-year-old construction worker and avid recreational golfer with a single-digit handicap, saw his healthy body suddenly betray him.
“My immune system attacked itself. Just one of those random things,” he says, recalling a midnight trip to the emergency room. “Never had any problems before that.”
Jordan was dealing with an affliction called transverse myelitis, a malady caused by tissue inflammation that compress the spinal cord.
He was completely paralyzed for a month, his prognosis uncertain. Gradually he regained use of his upper body, and began sweating through rehabilitation sessions at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria.
But his legs never did come back. He still lives under the threat of seizures, controlled by medication. His construction career halted and, for a long time, so did his golf game.
“The only reason I quit was because there wasn’t equipment available,” says Jordan, whose only outlet was occasional one-armed practice swings in his yard. “But I can still exactly remember holes I played from years ago. I can describe a golf course I haven’t seen in years.”
A dozen years passed without Jordan taking hacks on a golf course. Then, about two springs ago, his brothers Paul and Doug were heading out to shoot a round, and Bob wanted to do more than just observe. He was determined to return to the game he loved.
“I said, what the heck, it doesn’t matter what kind of cart they have. I’m gonna play,” Jordan relates. “I just wanted to see what I could do. The rest is history.”
The three went to Brambleton. By happenstance, Jordan discovered that the course had recently obtained a cart for disabled golfers, a vehicle called a SoloRider designed to allow a player to come right up to the ball.
“It has a seat that pivots and elevates,” Riggs says. “A lot of people won’t come out because they think it’s not accessible, but it is.”
Jordan has been a mainstay at the eastern Loudoun course since, swinging with his right hand while his left steadies himself in the cart. In the winter months he plays a couple times weekly; in good weather he’s there almost every day.
“The support they’ve given me has been incredible,” says Jordan of Brambleton.
Jordan now volunteers at Brambleton as a players’ assistant, helping patrons find their way on the course and keeping the grounds in shape.
“I wanted to show that golf is accessible, and he does that in a big way,” says Riggs, the course manager since 2005. “He’s a huge asset and a great guy.”
Turning the corner
Jordan fashioned his own set of clubs by fastening heads onto truncated putters. He invented a method of grounding a tee and placing a ball on it using a modified clothes hanger.
Since taking the game back up, he has seen his scores plummet from around 125 strokes per 18 holes down to around 90. He once shot an 83 last year.
He can drive it 180 yards with his one-armed swing, putting it where he wants it to go. His goal for the upcoming season is to break 80.
“I don’t hit it far enough, but that’s the goal,” says Jordan, who notes that he must often select unusual shots in order to get on the green.
Playing from the forward tees, he is competitive with able-bodied golfers in one Brambleton league, and claimed last season’s championship in another for disabled golfers.
He still plays with his brothers or his friends, but sometimes he plays in solitude.
“I like to go out when the golf course is empty and I’m by myself. I get into a good rhythm. Sometimes I even play in the rain,” he says, laughing.
Jordan calls golf a challenge.
“It’s never the same. Each course is different, each hole is different. The same course could play differently on a different day,” says Jordan, who occasionally plays at Algonkian Regional Park Golf Course in Sterling as well as some Fairfax County courses.
Seated in the SoloRider, pivoting down to address the ball before unleashing a one-armed whack, Jordan sometimes gets quizzical looks from other golfers.
“They don’t know what to make of me,” he says. “They’ve never seen somebody do this before.”
Jordan says he draws inspiration from disabled golfer and motivational speaker Dennis Walters, who possesses a 220-yard drive and an array of trick shots while offering a message of dedicated perseverance.
For Jordan, golfing at Brambleton lets him improve his game in the heat of competition, just as he was doing before being blindsided by paralysis more than 13 years ago.
“I feel younger than I am, sometimes. Well, mentally, anyway,” he adds quickly. “You’ve just got to keep on going.”