NEW PORT RICHEY — Mike Carver calls himself a "lucky one," which seems odd when you see that he is missing his right arm and leg. He has only two fingers on his remaining hand, and they had to be surgically separated. He has only four toes on his left foot.
"I was all messed up," he said, "but I never knew anything different. I was born this way. I didn't have to endure trauma like most of these folks."
Nearby, a few dozen men and women with artificial limbs gathered Friday morning on the practice tee at the Seven Springs Golf and Country Club. Carver's buddy Jim McElhiney heard him telling his story and quickly dispatched any notion that this was anything but a happy event.
"They put that other toe on his hand," joked McElhiney, who lost his left leg 50 years ago when it got tangled in a ship's anchor. "I mean, look at that thing!"
Carver, 55, designs water and sewer systems with a civil engineering firm in Holcomb, Miss. He also can grip a driver with those mangled fingers and, in a motion similar to a tennis backhand, launch a golf ball 230 yards down the fairway. He shot 74 on Wednesday, 2 over par.
Carver is among 50 golfers from 18 states competing today and Sunday in the 57th Southern Amputee Golf Championship. They gathered Friday to instruct amputees just getting started in the game and for a scramble with Seven Springs members.
Mike Hudson, the tournament organizer, said the accomplishments of these golfers gives confidence to others suffering loss of limb. The National Amputee Golf Association, which has five regions and more than 2,500 members, receives support from the Professional Golfers Association and offers scholarships. Hudson said he hopes to direct some aid toward the family of Ireland Nugent, the 2-year-old Palm Harbor girl whose lower legs were cut off in a lawn mower accident.
Like Carver, many of the golfers teeing off today have incredible stories. Dave Bowling, 60, went to bed at his home in Owenton, Ky., on June 9, 2008, with a nagging itch above the toes on his right foot. By the time he woke up, a red ulcer the size of a quarter had formed. Bowling went to a hospital emergency room.
Eleven operations and four months later, surgeons removed his leg below the knee.
"Brown recluse spider,'' Bowling said. He dwindled from 270 to 150 pounds before recovering.
"Don't feel sorry for me," he said. "It's just one of life's challenges. I'm blessed to be alive, and I still play golf six days a week."
McElhiney, 70, competed in the shot put and discus at three Paralympics, the last in Barcelona in 1992. He won three world championships. Now living in Spring Hill, Tenn., he has worked 49 years making prosthetics for Hanger Clinics.
Vince Moran, 63, lost his left leg in combat as a Marine in 1970. He had been in Vietnam only 28 days when his platoon was ambushed near An Hoa. He tripped a wire that exploded a mortar. "I looked over and saw my foot," he recalled. He spent 10 months in the hospital for numerous injuries but later earned a degree from Middle Tennessee State University. He's been married for 41 years and raised three kids. He worked 16 years for the sheriff's office in Nashville, the last nine as finance director.
He spoke for so many of his fellow golfers Friday morning: "I never could have imagined that one day I could walk, much less play golf. You just don't give up.''