by Billy Dennis
Billy Dennis Jr. 3-4 years old
Billy Dennis Sr.
Keeton Park Golf Course
I’ve tried to work out how old I was at the time. My best guess is that I was between two and three years of age. My father, Billy Dennis Sr., a legend of Dallas golf, brought home a 3-iron that he found discarded on the golf course. The club had been cut-down by cutting the middle section out and welding it back together. This was before they really engineered clubs for kids, so even cut-down, the club was so heavy that it almost caused me to fall over on my backswing. But I adored it. Golf quickly became my life. After all, it was my dad’s life and his looked pretty good. “It doesn’t matter if you’re three or ninety-three,” my dad would say as I swung away, “if you can stand, you can play golf.” Some kids have their security blanket. I had my 3-iron.
After high school, I decided to forego a number of chances to play in college. Instead, I came up with the brilliant idea to join the Army. I enlisted and soon found myself at Ft. Benning, home of the 75th Ranger Regiment. While I don’t necessarily regret my decision to enter the military, it did force me to shelve my clubs for the first time in my life. However, not even the Army could scrub clean the memories of playing. In fact, I played quite a few rounds from the comfort of a cozy foxhole. Knowing many courses better than the back of my hand, I learned I could close my eyes and tee off anytime I wanted. I called it mind swing.
After the Army, I found myself back in the real world, the gray world. Surprisingly enough, there’s not a lot of demand for combat soldiers in the real world. I wandered, looking for a job that could utilize my skillsets. Nothing.
“Didn’t the Army teach you anything?” they’d ask.
“Sure, do you have a list of your enemies?” I’d say. This contempt didn’t help any. However, I did possess one other skill: I could play golf. I hadn’t really played in years, but the ability was ingrained in me, wrapped securely around the double helix of my DNA. Golf was like breathing; I didn’t even have to think about it — actually, the less thinking the better. I made a few calls to some old contacts and found myself at the Shores Country Club in Rockwall, Texas. They agreed bring me on as a golf professional and cover the costs of attending the PGA university. However, it did require that I pass the Players Ability Test. The PAT is a one-day, 36-hole tournament played against a target score. The score is based on the slope and course rating of a particular golf course. For this course, the score was set at 148, a daunting challenge for someone who had but one week to prepare. So, I brought in, Alvin, my best friend, to caddy for me. It wasn’t so much Alvin’s skills as a caddy that made him so invaluable; it was his demeanor. He kept things light and breezy, keeping me from overthinking and freeing me to do what I did best: play. I closed my eyes and steeled myself. I shot a 139 that day, 68-71. I was now officially in the PGA program.
For next two years, I had the best job of my life. I played golf every single day. I’m not even sure I would call it a job. A job is something most people dread. I never felt like I worked a single day. It became my church. Sounds weird to say, but it’s the truth. Playing alone in the morning — the dew rooster-tailing off the ball from a well-rolled putt — is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience. It’s simply ineffable. But the good times were not to last.
Driving to the golf course on August 21, 2000-something, my first life ended. I was involved in a near-fatal car wreck. Struck head-on by a drunk driver, I found myself upside down in the ditch. As the helicopter lifted off to take me to the hospital, I drifted into a coma. I woke up some three weeks later, finding myself in a completely different, foreign world. I broke nearly every bone in my body from the chest down, with many of the bones no longer in my body. Informed I would never walk again, all hopes of playing golf vanished. My only solace was that I could still play in my mind. To escape the pain and loneliness, I played more and more each day. It eventually became so detailed it would take me three, four hours to play a single round in my head. I spent seven months in the hospital and an additional two years learning to walk again. But I was determined to make it back to the course, an actual course. With grit, determination, and the support of my friends and family, I went from wheelchair to walker—from walker to cane—from cane to club. After giving an interview to ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone, I even had one last ditch effort at the U.S. Open, but that’s a story for another time.
Today, I no longer play golf professionally. Instead, I spend my free time just enjoying the game that gave me the willpower to walk again. From time to time, I even play a round or two in my head, so if you see me sitting quietly with my eyes closed, don’t disturb me. I am probably about to tee off.
Billy Dennis’s writing philosophy can be summed up in seven words: know a lot; write what you know. This is how he earned his reputation as a polymath writer. After a drunk driver decided he should change careers, Billy found his way back to college, rebranding himself as a former PGA golf professional turned writer, editor, and educator. Billy is currently attending the University of Texas at Dallas, where he is set to receive his B.A. in Literary Studies & Creative Writing in 2017. In addition to his own education, Billy also passionately helps others with theirs as a Writing Consultant at Eastfield’s The Link.