Jorgenson Lucky To Be Alive After Accident
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Fort Worth, Texas – As Don Jorgenson lay on the warm cement, passing in and out of consciousness, he asked himself a natural question in such a dreadful circumstance.
“Am I going to die?” he said.
It wasn’t a fleeting thought. Not with the prospect of the two years of gut-wrenching rehabilitation ahead. Except, at that time, the end point on the path back to some semblance of normality felt as unreachable as the place where the sky meets the road on a distant horizon.
The fact that the 61-year-old Jorgenson is here at all this week is a victory in itself. Even after shooting an 83 in the first round of stroke play Saturday at Shady Oaks Country Club.
It is not hyperbole, either.
On a non-descript day in 2003, Jorgenson went about his normal routine with nary an idea of how his life would be forever changed. Retired from the Tucson police force since 1998, the affable Jorgenson hopped on his bike and hit his stride.
His recollections of what happened next are strangely lucid for such a shocking ordeal. His inflection utilized a matter-of-fact cadence.
“A 17-year-old kid, in a hurry, talking on a cell phone, in a Honda, going to school, trying to beat the light, trying to make a left turn, I was in the intersection, his front bumper hit my left knee, I went flying over the car and landed in the street behind it,” said Jorgenson.
As he laid there a crumpled mess, Jorgensen’s left thumb had flopped grossly toward the ground. Three fingers on his other limb were extended disgustingly backward and much of his left ear was missing. Even worse, his left knee looked like a butcher had hacked it. Humpty-Dumpty’s fall paled by comparison to this. Jorgenson needed three invasive surgeries to repair his thumb and fingers, re-attach his ear and insert a Titanium rod in his knee.
Three months later as he convalesced at home, Jorgenson learned how fortunate he actually was. A man who worked for a carpet service visited Jorgenson’s home, they got to talking about the injuries, how they happened and when. As it turned out, the man said he had witnessed a horrific accident three months prior when a kid had hit a guy on his bike at the same intersection. Trailing the accident, the man slammed on his brakes just short of the biker who had been lying motionless on the cement. A few more feet and the biker would have been crushed.
That motionless biker was Jorgenson.
“He would have killed me,” said Jorgenson.
The incident struck a chord in his 37-year-old son Don, a Fort Worth resident who is carrying his bag this week.
“Obviously my first concern was his safety,” said Don, one of four children. “I mean, he was almost dead. ‘Is he going to be alright? Is he going to be able to maintain a certain lifestyle?’ That’s what was going through my head.
“I mean, none of us walks out of the house every day saying, ‘I think I’ll get in a fatal car accident.’”
For the next two years, as Jorgenson underwent grueling physical therapy, he sought refuge in a previous goal that had been temporarily shelved due to the accident. In 1999 as an amateur he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open in Des Moines, Iowa, where he badly missed the cut.
“Nerves killed me,” said Jorgenson. “I was so intimidated by the crowd. … It was my first time in something like that – I was an amateur – I was in over my head. I was in awe.”
Leaving with his tail between his legs, Jorgenson swore he would redeem himself. He’d come back and play better in another Senior Open. He turned professional, entered Q-School for the then Senior Tour and didn’t have much luck, spending more than he made. He thought it was the life he wanted after his wife, Cindy, who is a U.S. District Court judge in Tucson, convinced him to retire from the police force in 1998 after Jorgenson’s hands wouldn’t stop trembling at dinner one night.
After spending 15 years as a detective on child molestation cases, after uniting with state prosecutors and politicians to rewrite child abuse statutes, and after seeing “one too many child autopsies,” he said, Jorgenson channeled his energies into golf.
Then came the accident, derailing his Senior Open redemption.
He mended enough, or so he thought, to hit balls again. When he took his first swings, his knee completely buckled. Jorgenson hopped back on the bike, overcoming the anxiety that resulted from being hit, to strengthen the knee.
In 2005 he proclaimed himself fit to qualify for the Senior Open again. During the sectional qualifier in Reno, Nev., he was one of six players in a playoff vying for one ticket to get to the championship. It came down to Jorgenson and another player on the sixth playoff hole. With his competitor needing to drain a 20-footer for par, Jorgenson was in solid shape, looking at a birdie from 8 feet. It was then that Jorgenson made a ghastly discovery.
“I looked in my bag and pulled a wedge out,” said Jorgenson. “My caddie had put my playing partner’s club in my bag from a previous hole to give me 15 clubs.”
The Rules official on hand had no choice but to disqualify him. Dream derailed again.
“On the other hand,” said Jorgenson chuckling, “I maintained my honor and integrity.”
Shortly thereafter Jorgenson applied to become a reinstated amateur, which was granted this past June. He set his sights on the USGA Senior Amateur just to see if he could get back to a national championship.
“I am really grateful to the USGA,” said Jorgenson. “They’ve meant everything to me. What they’ve done, what they represent, it helped me set the goal to come back. If I didn’t have golf as a goal, I don’t know what I would have done.”
There’s no doubt the accident changed his perspective on life. He added that he’s grateful for his kids, family and life every day that he begins a day anew.
More important, golf is just a game and the 83 he shot Saturday was a victory in itself. If he fails to make match play, he’ll visit two grandchildren, 6-year-old Aiden and 3-year-old Declan, Don’s sons.
“My perspective on it is that I’m proud of him being here,” said his son, Don. “No matter how he does, it’s not going to change how I feel.”
Said Jorgenson: “Family and everything is top drawer. If I could put a perfect drive anywhere, that’s where my family would be.
“I get to walk the course with my son in a national championship. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.