My Usual GameJanuary 4, 2016

Golf with a broken neck (and back)

Rex Hauck is a brother-in-law of Tony’s and, therefore, an honorary-member-by-marriage of the Sunday Morning Group. That's Rex on the far right in the photo below (and Tony on the far left):

Hauck and a girlfriend went skiing in Aspen back in the 1980s, when he was 28. They got on a chairlift, and when he reached behind them for the safety bar he was surprised to discover that their chair didn’t have one. Partway up the mountain, the chair struck a tower and began to swing. Rex and his girlfriend were thrown out, and fell 40 feet. His girlfriend landed first, in deep snow, and was unhurt; Hauck landed across her legs, on his back, and had to be taken down the mountain on a rescue sled.

“I fractured three vertebrae in my neck, and also suffered a compression fracture of two vertebrae in the middle of my spine,” he told me recently. “I had two operations to repair the damage. Doctors took out bone and muscle from the vertebrae in my neck but could do nothing for the compression fracture in my back.”

A representative of the ski company visited Hauck in the hospital, and offered him a free lifetime lift pass. He declined, and discovered later that the same chair had struck the tower before, damaging its safety bar, and that rather than fixing the problem or taking the chair out of service the lift operator had simply removed the bar. He also learned, to his sorrow, that Colorado law narrowly limits the legal liability of lift operators, to an extent that seems inconceivable to someone whose state’s economy doesn’t depend heavily on the profitability of its skiing industry. (He received a settlement in the low four figures.)

“I don't ski anymore, but I still play golf,” Hauck continued. “The compression fracture in my back effectively fused those bones, leaving me much less flexibility and rotation in my torso. The surgeons didn’t fuse the vertebrae in my neck, but arthritis and the loss of the discs have limited my ability to rotate my head. I thought at first that having less movement in my neck would help my golf swing, but I still manage to lift my head too much on the way down. I have a fluid, PGA-style swing only in my imagination, but that doesn’t diminish the excitement I feel when I step onto the tee box.”

Hacker (real name) and Hauck

Here’s a video of Hauck’s swing, made on my home course a couple of years ago. The voice in the background, toward the end, is Tony’s.

Last year, I wrote a column in Golf Digest about Thomas Tami, another golf buddy of mine who plays despite having broken his neck. You can read about him here, and watch a video here: