A love for the links

READY FOR THE ROUND: Jeff Smith, a Big Rapids postal worker, likes to play golf despite having a prosthetic right leg. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)

EVART — Jeff Smith has never let anything interfere with his love for golf.

Including having a prosthetic right leg.

The Evart resident, who is employed as a mail carrier in Big Rapids, is an avid golfer at Spring Valley Golf Course. He usually plays on leagues four days a week: The Tuesday men’s league, Wednesday scramble, Sunday mixed scramble and Friday couples.

“I play with a lady whose husband doesn’t golf and my wife doesn’t golf,” he said. “So it works out.”

He also plays in a Thursday night league at the Rose Golf Course in LeRoy.

With his city walking mail route in Big Rapids, he’s usually out by 4 p.m. He’s been with the post office nine years.

“I started playing (seriously) after I had my leg amputated,” Smith said. “I played a lot of softball. After I had my leg amputated, I started.”

His right leg, below the knee, was amputated. The leg had been injured from a military accident while he served in the Air Force for nine years. His leg condition progressively worsened.

“I was ready to have it taken off,” he said. “It was kind of my choice. They had done four surgeries and right from the first surgery, they said it would eventually have to come off.”

After the fourth surgery, while a fifth one was being discussed, Smith made the decision to have that portion of his leg amputated.

Smith was working with the postal service at that time. He was off for six months before returning to work.

“I was walking, and I’m up to seven miles a day,” he said. “Everybody adjusts differently to it. I was active before and I continue to be active. I still ride my motorcycle with a trailer behind it which I haul my golf clubs with. We don’t always ride carts. We also walk.”

It’s actually a better situation, Smith says, than before the leg was amputated.

“It’s pain free now,” he said. “I had played a lot of softball prior to that. It’s a whole lot easier to golf now than play softball. I’m 50 years old so it’s time to play more golf than softball.”

Smith is from Evart originally where he lives, He still has the Evart school long jump record at 21-8 1/2 which he set in 1978.

After the military, he worked at Dean’s Food for seven years in Evart. He attended college before starting with the postal service nine years ago.

Smith never imagined he’d be playing this much golf.

“After the leg situation and my kids graduated from high school, I wanted to get into golf more,” he said. “Probably the last four years, I played pretty seriously.”

At Spring Valley, “the people are awesome,” Smith said. “I run a tournament here in September, a two-person scramble. We call it Spring Valley’s Revenge where I move the tee boxes around and put pins in interesting places to make it more challenging. It’s just a fun tournament.”

Smith has shot under par for nine holes at time. He’s had eagles at the course. His cousin, Brad Halladay recently scored a hole-in-one.

Ironically, about a year ago, Smith’s picture was on the Letterman Show. It was a spoof on e-mails and postal carriers. But as Smith recalls, it had no relationship to his leg situation and his photo was chosen at random

When golf season ends, Smith takes it easy.

“My wife says she’s a golf widow,” he smiled.

Halladay and Smith golf together frequently. Later this summer, they’ll be going down to Three Rivers for the Michigan Amputee Event.

“Friday is a fun day, a 5-person scramble,” said Smith, who later plays against other amputees during the weekend.

Halladay said he was amazed, at first, with what Smith was able to accomplish on the golf course despite the amputation.

“Now, I don’t even think about it,” Halladay said. “He does so much and he was a great athlete before. He’s a good golfer but he’s very humble. He doesn’t brag out it. Most of the time, we’re just playing for fun.”

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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