NEW PORT RICHEY
Mike Hudson is a southpaw by default.
Hudson has lived 61 years without his right arm that is a rounded, smooth stub at the elbow. The New Port Richey native used to pitch in high school. Now, he golfs with a six handicap and he's beating those who aren't missing limbs.
"He's the real Lefty to me," Seven Springs golf course manager Jack Gleason said, referring to PGA Tour member Phil Mickelson's nickname of Lefty because he is a rare left-handed golfer. "Phil has two hands. He's probably a more accomplished golfer than I will ever be with the two arms that I have. What (Mike) does, is way more amazing than what Phil does."
Hudson says a birth defect that was never diagnosed left him with one arm, but growing up he excelled at sports regardless. He didn't start playing golf until he got older, when a friend back in Capitol City, Tenn., got him to play.
"I looked around," Hudson recalls with a laugh, "and I didn't see many golfers with two arms doing much better, so I thought I'd give it a try. … I'm not saying I learned (golf) overnight, but once I learned to swing within myself, I'd say, within two to three years, I was shooting in the low 80s."
Hudson ended up playing in a tournament sponsored by the Southern Amputee Golf Association in Clearwater in the '70s.
That event had the one-armed champion at the time playing, who Hudson beat by shooting a 76. The tour quickly asked him to join.
Now, Hudson is a four-time, one-arm national champion, an impressive feat for any of the championships on the Amputee Golf Tour, which include one-leg and multiple-amputee champions.
"For all of us who are blessed with both arms and can't play worth heck, I let people know that he only has one and they are just flabbergasted that he only has one," longtime friend and golf partner Jim Wiley said. "What he does with the golf ball is just amazing, just amazing."
Hudson will call himself handicapped, but only by formality. Amputees are considered handicapped because of the lack of limbs, but it doesn't mean it inhibits them, such as with Hudson.
"I think one of the greatest accomplishments you can have when you're disabled is for people not to consider you disabled and just accept you for what you are," Hudson said. "I don't flaunt it — that's never my intent. But if someone says, 'Mike, I forgot you're one-armed,' I say, 'Man, I've been working all my life to hear something like that.'"
But what else is there for Hudson to do? How about teaching amputee kids or new amputee veterans that playing sports, such as golf, isn't out of the question?
That's exactly what Hudson does, working with kids and some Iraq veterans who come back from duty as representative of the SAGA now in New Port Richey.
"A lot of times, handicaps can be between the ears," Hudson said. "You have to tell them, 'Yes, you can (do it).' Yeah, you may not be hitting like Tiger Woods, but they're steps to pursue to (be able to do it). They have to want to do it, and that is usually the toughest part: getting the kids or the new amputee to realize, to want to go out."
Hudson teaches a golf grip that takes the strain off the wrists for one-armed golfers.
But it's tough for parents to not be overprotective, because, as Hudson says, "It's hard to get people to tell their loved ones, 'Hey, I can do this. Let me try this for myself.'"
Those who know him well aren't shocked Hudson has taken on this mission to help talented athletes, who just happen to be amputees.
"(He has) amazing ability that he competes on the high level like he does," Gleason said. "And that he works with a lot of younger golfers that are amputees, it's amazing to see their progression after working with Mike, to see how much they improve. He's such a positive influence."
Submit story ideas, feedback to Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas at email@example.com or call (352) 544-9480.