Drive of a Champion
As Larry Alford set the table for dinner, Missy noticed a special twinkle in her son’s eyes. The exuberant 18-year-old had just returned from playing in a tournament in California. Competing against 75 of America’s top junior golfers, Larry finished tied for second place.
Back home in suburban Houston that evening in July 1991, he couldn’t keep the surprise any longer. “Mum,” he said, grinning broadly, “a coach at the University of Houston talked to me after the tournament. They’ve offered me a golf scholarship for next year. Now you won’t have to struggle to put me through college!” .
Missy threw her arms around him. “I’m so proud of you!” she said.
Since his parents’ divorce when Larry was ten, money had been tight. During the previous four years, Larry’s older sister, Kristi, had attended university, and Missy needed all she could earn. She taught art full time at a local school, made and sold decorative wreaths and worked as a wallpaper hanger. Her ex-husband, who had remarried, was also struggling.
A golf scholarship seemed to be the break the family needed. From an early age, Larry lived and breathed the sport.
Working part time at the local golf course, Larry played after school. When it got dark, he waded into water hazards and, raking his hands along the bottom, dug out scores of balls. Since Larry turned his pay over to his mother, the balls he salvaged meant he could play more golf. Bright Future. Touching 172 centimetres and weighing 75 kilos, Larry had developed a fluid, powerful stroke. Two years in a row, he was named his school golf team’s most valuable player. “No one competes as hard as your son,” coach Danny Hiring told Larry’s father. “He also puts the team first and himself second – every time.”
As the summer of 1991 wore on, Larry’s future glowed brighter and brighter. A stream of colleges made recruiting overtures to the teenager, ranked among the top 16 young golfers in the US.
After golf practice on August 30, a teammate was planning to pick up his father’s sports car from home and drop it off at a relative’s house. Larry offered to drive the car while his teammate followed in another car.
At 6.10 p.m., Larry was speeding down a highway and lost control. The sports car flipped end over end three times, catapulting him through its open roof.
Larry was taken to the hospital, where chief trauma surgeon James “Red” Duke studied the motionless young man. Dr. Duke had treated hundreds of car-accident victims. To him, Larry didn’t look like one of the lucky ones. He glanced at his crushed left hand. Even if he makes it, Duke thought, that hand won’t.
Larry’s mother, father and friends rushed to the hospital. At dawn Dr. John Burns, an orthopedic hand specialist entered the waiting room. Larry was in a critical condition, he said. He’d suffered a collapsed lung and a broken eye-orbital bones that caused his left eye to hang partially from the socket. His jaw was fractured, and he also had a broken shoulder blade and a broken ankle. “I’m sorry to tell you,” the doctor added, “that we couldn’t save your son’s left arm. We had to amputate just below the elbow.”