A Life-Changing Injury Helped This Golf Pro Discover Strength in Loss
Carlos Brown's career was taking off. Then an accident forced him to rethink his life and love of the game.
Moving Mountains is a series about athletes persevering to find personal meaning in sport.
Anyone who has played golf can attest to its unpredictability. A shifting breeze switches your ball's direction at the last moment. A bad bounce kicks it into the woods. A single branch changes its trajectory just enough to make it land on the long side of the green. A curse from the gods, a curse out of your mouth as it trickles slowly into a lake. Golf, in so many ways, represents the fickle nature of life. Carlos Brown, an award-winning golf coach from Dallas, Texas, knows all there is to know about the game's unpredictability. Today, he's standing over the ninth hole, where he was once the golf professional, expertly reading the green, deeply appreciating the fact that he's standing at all.
While teaching a lesson in 2016, Carlos stepped off a golf buggy and into a deep sprinkler head, badly spraining his ankle. It shouldn't have been a big deal, but an infection set in and he was rushed to the emergency room. When he awoke from surgery, his lower left leg had been amputated.
As a Black coach in a predominantly white sport, Carlos had always been in the minority. As a Black amputee golf pro, he was now even more so. "I represent a group of people bigger than myself—two groups of people bigger than myself", Carlos says. "I can't cut corners. I can't cheat people". But through it all, he was determined to find the silver lining.
"I just love being out here. I love what I do. I love being a golf professional ..."
After the amputation, everything became exponentially more difficult. Getting dressed. Walking to the tee box. Bending down to pick up the ball after a putt. But Carlos never once entertained the thought that he wouldn't return to teach golf. Instead, the procedure was a catharsis. "I knew I was going to play again. I knew I was going to teach", he says. "But what I didn't know was that the journey was going to be a transformation". As Carlos healed, he had to relearn how to do things he'd once done with ease. He came to see the injury as an opportunity for optimism and appreciation, rather than negativity and remorse. "It was like, man, I just love being out here. I love what I do. I love being a golf professional; I love playing golf".
Back on the green, Carlos surveys an eight-foot putt for par. His prosthetic, which was designed by a golfer for golfers, helps him to not just read the green beneath him, but sense it as well. "I can feel myself off. Even if it's slight, I know that it is, so that actually helps me", he says. It's a comment representative of his new outlook on life: where others may see a loss, Carlos sees a gain. He stands over his putt, strokes the ball perfectly and watches as it falls gently into the hole.
"If a kid that is an amputee sees me, then maybe he goes, 'Hey, you know what, I can be a golf professional. I can play golf'".
Carlos believes that life, like the golf course, is an uncontrollable environment. "You have to control the controllable" is a maxim he returns to frequently. He may never have set out to be a beacon of hope for anyone, but when the uncontrollable happened, he had to quickly adapt to his new reality. He attributes his ability to do so to his faith, which he says kept him grounded and allowed him to quickly put his new circumstance into perspective. He also credits his support system: the people who were at his side when he woke up after his surgery. He says that support system is what he now aspires to be for other people going through the same situation. "If a kid that is an amputee sees me, then maybe he goes, 'Hey, you know what, I can be a golf professional. I can play golf'".
In the film above, Carlos shares his story and explains how he overcame mental as well as physical obstacles to gain a new perspective on life and the game he loves.
Words: Nickolaus Sugai
Photography: Eli Durst
Film: Shern Sharma
Reported: September 2020