Loss of two limbs can't slow down Florida golfer

Loss of two limbs can't slow down Florida golfer

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Graper hits the links a couple times a week. Graper hits the links a couple times a week.
ORMOND BEACH, Fl. - John Graper is the typical golfer.

His handicap is a very modest 25, which indicates he shoots under 100 on a good day, over on a not-so-good day.

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The typical part: "I'll be honest, with my game, I should be somewhere between a 14 and 16 handicap," he says. "I know how I can hit the ball, but the way I look at it, I just make too many mistakes out there. But 14 to 16, that's where I feel I should be."

What's not typical: Graper's most obvious handicap hits you when he pulls his clubs from the trunk and starts toward the pro shop at Riviera Country Club. He has no left arm. Upon closer inspection, you notice that his left leg is store-bought.

A 1971 motorcycle accident cost him two limbs, but it didn't disable him. Several days a week, the 66-year-old leaves his Palm Coast home, gets on U.S. 1 and heads south, through Ormond Beach to Riviera, where he's a longtime member.

"I love the game," says Graper, who loves it in a way all serious golfers love the game, which means he also hates it on occasion.

"He can get really angry when he messes up. Some people can't understand that, but I think it's great," says Tyler Smith, an assistant pro at Riviera who's often paired with Graper at the course's weekly pro-ams on Friday mornings. "He chucked his putter off the 15th green the other day, then stood there a minute and said, 'great, now I gotta go get the damned thing.' We all laughed - even him."

More "typical golfer" from Graper: "I'll still say a few four-letter words here and there, but I'm trying NOT to throw my club anymore."

Then, of course, he explains himself in a manner recognizable to all who have spent time in a club grill.

"I know what I should be doing and what I should be scoring," he says. "If I hit a bad shot because I lift my head up, that shouldn't be happening ... but I'm learning to control it a little better."

Graper had never played much golf before his accident - "I'd go out to the range and bang balls now and then." But once he found a way to hit the ball consistently, and realized he was physically capable, he made it the hobby of a lifetime.

It didn't take long to learn that it's best if he hits the ball "back-handed" with his right arm, standing on the side of the ball where a lefty would stand. He putts from the right-handed side, however.

His drives are generally very accurate and can sneak out to about 180 yards. His other distances range from about 165 yards with the 3-wood to about 110 with a 7-iron, very typical of senior players at his handicap level.

He says his best golf came several years ago when he was a member at River Bend in Ormond Beach - "I got into the 70s a couple of times there from the senior tees" - but now his goal is to get back into the 80s with some regularity.

So he continues to play every chance he gets, though he doesn't spend as much time on the practice range as he once did.

"I love the game; I really do," he says.

Well, except for those times he hates it. But again, like all serious golfers, by day's end he'll find himself in the backyard of his home, working on the latest "fix" he just stumbled upon.

"I work on my swing at the house all the time," he says. "I just go in my backyard and swing the club, trying to keep the same swing plane. You have to keep that plane.

"You and I swing the club the same way. The only difference between me and you is that I swing it with one arm."

Graper resigned himself long ago to the fact that the game is never mastered. One arm or two, 25 handicap or 15, golf's give and take is an equal-opportunity employer and annoyer.

"Really, my only problem is distance," he says. "I can't hit the ball far enough to play a lot of the longer courses. But I can put a draw on it if I have to. I can put a fade on it if I have to."

Then he chuckles and says, "I can also put it in the water."

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