Jared Brentz said he never has “gotten the opportunity to have that many low experiences” in life.
Quite humbling coming from a 25-year-old amateur golfer who had his feet and ankles amputated at age 12.
“I’m very fortunate enough in the family, in the environment and the people that I grew up with, they were always very supportive,” Brentz said Tuesday at TPC Summerlin. “Really the only lowlights I had, I would consider to be the times where I was in a wheelchair. That was where I was just ready to get out of (that) thing. Once we were able to accomplish that, there really hasn’t been much after the fact.”
Brentz will compete in today’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Pro-Am in a “Dream Team” comprised of two other former patients of Shriners Hospitals — RJ Wren and Kim Moore — along with professional golfer Jonathan Byrd.
Brentz was born with clubfeet and arthrogyposis, a condition that limits movement with joints that don’t function normal and may even be stuck in one position. Wren was born with a brachial plexus injury, which required him to be seen by specialists to correct nerve damage that affected his mobility in his shoulder and arm. Moore had her leg amputated below her right knee, as she was born in 1981 with a severe clubbed left foot, as well as spina bifida.
“Shriners was every bit a part of my life, since right after birth to until the time I was 18, and really beyond that,” said Brentz, who successfully defended his 2013 Mesquite ParaLong Drive National Championship on May 9, when he powered a 409-yard drive off the tee in the final round.
“It’s really hard to put into words how much they’ve meant to me. They’ve been such a big part of my life, there’s just no better way to give back. I’m just sitting here enjoying the moment. There’s times when I’m thinking back to all the experiences I’ve had with them, and it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Brentz, who was 6 months old when he first visited a Shriners Hospital, in Lexington, Ky., made his own decision at age 12 to undergo amputation surgery. After three major surgeries in the first 12 years of his life, and living with severe pain and discomfort, his decision for amputation saved him from what was the potential of living the rest of his life in a wheelchair, as the condition was sure to worsen.
“Back then, it was really the only life that I ever knew,” said the junior criminal justice major at Middle Tennessee State. “I was in chronic pain at the time, (and) it finally got to the point I was in a wheelchair. We grew up in a very competitive household, and I couldn’t play sports anymore. (Doctors) gave me an option that with amputation I would be able to have the opportunity to play sports again.”
And while his mother continually asked specialists if they could only take his ankles and feet, since they were all that were bothering him, the doctors insisted the amputation had to be just beneath the knee. But after a restless night of sleep, the surgeon studied Brentz’s case further and changed the strategy at the final moment. Instead, they did what the family asked and took his heel and attached it to his tibia and fibula.
“I find out after my surgery when I woke up, I got to keep a lot of my leg; they only took my ankle and my foot. … I really think God had a big plan in that,” said Brentz, a devout Baptist.
Brentz competed for his middle school golf team, eventually becoming the squad’s No. 1 player during his eighth-grade year, when his team won the district championship. He was a four-year letterman in both golf and wrestling for South-Doyle High School in Knoxville, Tenn., where as a senior, he helped the golf team to a second-place district finish and was named to the all-district team. He also led the district in the longest drive per 18 holes category, averaging more than 300 yards per drive.
“They gave me the tools to go out and do it, but I was the one that had to go out and do it,” said Brentz, whose twin brother, Bryce, made his major league debut last month as an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. “Thinking back through all that, I’ve always appreciated things a little bit better. But at the same time, it’s always been a life that I’ve known. I’ve always either had to work around things or find a different way to be successful on different playing fields. But it’s really always been the same approach for me. It’s never been an option to just lay down and not do anything, I’m just not built that way.”
On the contrary, Brentz is built like a football player, standing 6 feet 4 inches and weighing 235 pounds with a vice-like handshake. He said he works out regularly with a steady regimen in the weight room, loves to powerlift, stops increasing his bench-press weight when he gets to 405 pounds and frequents the golf course as often as he can.
He plays recreationally, and won’t hit the links to prepare for a long-driving event until about a month prior, keeping it all in fun. He’s also getting married Nov. 8 to his statuesque fiancee, Erin Ogan, who some might say resembles actress Charlize Theron.
And while the pain in his legs resurfaces occasionally, especially when the colder weather hits Tennessee, it’s nothing like he experienced as a kid. He considers those times his current lowlights, when he suffers from a “really bad infection and gets kicked out of his legs,” and that’s his humbling experience of letting him know he can’t do everything.
“But I kind of just sit back and laugh and say, ‘Man, I’ve had a lot worse than this,’ ” he said. “As far as just appreciating everyday life, I really do now just appreciate it more, because even with what little walking we just did around here, I could have never done that at 12. Getting up, being able to go about the day normally, being able to do whatever I want to do, it does get to a point where it kind of gets to a routine, but then you step back and realize, hey, I have come a long way. It definitely hits you sometimes.”
THE REST OF THE DREAM TEAM
RJ WREN — Wren, who had arthroscopic shoulder release, began playing golf at a young age and has become good thanks to his dynamic swing. He now puts his skills to work to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children. In 2013, he asked for pledges through a Birdies for Charity program, then went out and recorded 64 birdies in tournament play. His effort raised $4,700 for Shriners, which in turn purchased an X-ray machine for the facility at which Wren was originally treated. Wren, who finished 31st out of 133 in this year’s U.S. Amateur Championship, will graduate from Twin Valley High School in June 2016. He won the PGA Junior Tour Championship in 2012 and brings an outstanding 0.4 handicap into today’s event.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Wren, 16, said in a statement issued through the tournament. “It’s a dream come true to meet and play with PGA Tour players. I’m actually missing my high school regional golf championship to be here, but it will be worth it.”
KIM MOORE — Moore started playing golf at age 15 and remains active on the course as golf coach at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She became a professional in 2003, when she joined the Duramed Futures Golf Tour, the official developmental golf tour of the LPGA Tour. It is now the Symetra Tour. After two years, Moore pursued a career as a coach and landed a job as an assistant for the men’s and women’s program at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. She later became the pro at Colonial Oaks Golf Club and Elcona Country Club, both in Indiana.
“I am so honored that the committee decided to invite me to play on the Dream Team,” Moore said in the tournament-issued statement. “I have played golf on many different levels, and being able to showcase my golfing ability on a national level, such as this, is something I’m extremely proud of. I hope that my participation in this event will help to raise awareness that no matter what your disability may be, and with a little bit of effort, you can achieve a lot of your goals.”
PRO-AM HANDICAP — Of the 35 teams that will tee off in today’s pro-am, 34 have a handicap of 20 or higher (based on only the amateur’s handicaps). The lowest handicap of the event is the Dream Team’s 9.