Picking up where I left off yesterday (see previous post
), meet John Engler, the three-time All-American from Clemson. Back in South Carolina, Engler played with Lucas Glover, Jonathan Byrd, D.J. Trahan and Charles Warren. They never won the National Championship, but they did finish second twice. When he graduated in 2001, if Engler wasn’t the best of that bunch, everyone will concede he was close.
After a decent season on the Buy.com Tour in 2002 ($30,864), on March 23, 2003, leaving a golf tournament and going to his home in Augusta, Ga., Engler was involved in a horrific car accident. The two people in the other car died. Engler, who was alone, was pulled from his car by some people who stopped to help, only minutes before his vehicle burst into flames. No charges were filed, although this story indicates it might have been Engler’s car that crossed the divide.
As a result of the crash, Engler’s foot was severed at the ankle and his prognosis was clear: if he walked again, it would be with a limp; golf was no longer an option.
Engler had six surgeries in nine months and at some point along the way, developed a staph infection. He was confined to hard casts and scooters, and once the cast was off, he started an intense rehab regimen in 2004. Thanks to the help of Lonnie Herrgott, a physical therapist that Engler still works with today, Engler made it through all three stages of Q-School at the end of 2005, and in 2006 (which is when he is pictured above), he played on the PGA Tour. In 27 events, he made seven cuts and $72,694. At the Reno-Tahoe Open, 20 tournaments into that season, Engler says he knew his ankle wasn’t going to hold up much longer. “That’s when I knew I couldn’t do 30 weeks a year on tour,” says Engler. “I was having to ice my ankle two hours every night.”
So Engler shelved the plans of being a professional golfer. He went to work for his father’s real estate and construction company in Augusta. Engler, 31, got married a year ago and after some inspirational conversations about golf with Todd Anderson, he got his amateur status back. “Growing up in Augusta, his dream was always to play in the Masters,” says Anderson. “I just reminded him that there are several ways to get there, and as an amateur is one of them.”
Driven by a competitive spirit and the flame that is burning behind the gates of Augusta National, Engler is playing the USGA Mid-Amateur Championship at Atlantic Golf Club on Long Island, which started yesterday.
Engler shot 71 at Sea Island’s Plantation Course the day we were teammates against Tadd Fujikawa and Anderson. He couldn’t have been a more gracious partner, reading putts and offering words of encouragement as I struggled at the beginning of the round.
Engler is a lefty; his left ankle is riddled with scars. To a casual observer, you can barely notice a limp and he can still hit his 9-iron 155 yards if he needs to. “I feel very fortunate,” he says, “I could be a lot worse off. I’m committed to trying to play golf with the body I have now. Golf continues to help me in life and business. There are highs and lows in this game, highs and lows in life. I surround myself with good people and try to maintain some moderation--I try to keep it in the middle of the road.”
For more on my round, our match and an update on Fujikawa, check in again tomorrow.
(Photograph by Getty Images.)