ALPINE — Don’t take the simple things in life for granted.
That’s the lesson learned by one of Utah’s most popular golf professionals, who is nursing injuries after a car accident nearly took his life eight weeks ago. It remains to be seen if Rick Roberts of Fox Hollow Golf Course in American Fork will ever enjoy the power and timing of his picture-perfect golf swing again.
But first things first.
Roberts’ professional life is golf and people. He’s a man’s man; a guy who one could easily envision hanging out with Brad Pitt or Kevin Sorbo. He even looks a little like actor Kevin Spacey when he smiles.
Roberts remembers the day of his best round as if it was hours ago instead of a dozen years ago. It was a 62, the standing course record at Fox Hollow, where he is director of golf. That day he chipped in three times and made a pair of eagles. “I was thinking of a 59,” he admits, reflecting on that sun-drenched Saturday morning his friends begged him to join them in a friendly practice round.
“It was amazing,” he says with pride, his eyes twinkling like lights on a Christmas tree.
That was then. Forward to the day that rocked his world.
On April 5, Roberts had just welcomed back his first assistant Jaxon Taylor from BYU-Hawaii, where he’d tried to fit in on the golf team. Roberts had taken Taylor and his second assistant, young Riley Bunker, to dinner and they’d talked about summer plans and work schedules at Fox Hollow.
It had been a long day, and Roberts suddenly got a feeling he should return home to his wife, so he urged the group to leave the restaurant. When they got to the car, he had a feeling to tell Taylor to hop in the back and he’d ride shotgun as Bunker drove.
They were chatting in the car traveling about 55 miles an hour on Alpine Highway en route to Roberts’ house when a car went right through a red light and collided with their car. Bunker’s air bag failed to deploy and he crashed his head into the windshield, knocking him unconscious and shattering his knee. Taylor broke his sternum. But Roberts had the worst injuries, breaking his tibia on his left leg, tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus and breaking the transverse process off a vertebra in his back.
In five seconds, Fox Hollow nearly lost its key workforce and leader. Bunker says he can’t remember the accident. Roberts can.
“It was surreal,” said Roberts. “It was like everything went to slow motion.”
His doctor said Roberts may play golf again, but it would be a miracle to play at the same level, especially because the pain in his back is an X-factor. “I’m 45 and I’m no spring chicken,” he says.
While golf is ramping up for the year, Roberts finds himself in a wheelchair and using a walker. He went to his daughter’s high school graduation last Thursday and made it to the course to help with a charity tournament Friday, but it sucked the energy out of him Saturday — the busiest day of the week.
And not being at work nearly did him in.
“It’s brutal. Golf and people are my life. Just the social aspect of being with people at the course is what I love. I’m not a guy who can stay cooped up. I have to see those 300 or 400 people a day, see what’s going on in their lives and tease them. That reality’s been tougher to miss than dealing with this injury.”
Roberts played basketball, baseball and football at Murray High. He gave up football in the 10th grade and took up golf. At the time, his friends teased him. Now they come and hold tournaments at his course and wish they were him. He worked his way from the bottom to the top at Fox Hollow, which used to be Tri City Golf Course.
Gina Higbee, an LPGA professional who teaches out of Fox Hollow, has known Roberts for 25 years and feels his loss. “It is absolutely killing him, not being at the course,” she said. “He has extreme passion for the game, is a very good player and is good with people. This has affected his ability to play and enjoy what he does for a living, but also teaching others.”
His wife Charisse is feeling the weight of a spring and summer opposite of what she is used to. Rick sleeps in a spare bedroom. He can’t get into his own bed because it is too high, so he is recovering in an upstairs room in their Alpine home. Charisse says it was fun being needed and playing nurse and gofer 24/7 for the first week because she is a golf widow whose husband normally leaves at dawn and comes home after the sun disappears.
“To be honest, at first it was a joy to do whatever I could to ease the pain and his limitations, but seven weeks later I get tired of running stairs 30 times a day and all the responsibilities that two parents usually do. But I do it for him because I love him dearly.”
Charisse said it has been a challenge physically and mentally for all.
“He gives 110 percent to the golf course,” said Charisse. “Since April, his life has changed completely. To see Rick unable to move without terrible pain and the limitations his injuries caused him is tough to see. Rick feels guilty he can’t be at work all the time.”
During their struggles, Charisse and Rick have been humbled by the love dumped on them from friends in the golf community. “We thank everyone for caring,” said Charisse.
Rick knows the score and that is the ultimate gain. If you are good enough to take 62 strokes during a round of golf, you can count.
And Roberts is counting his blessings. He knows he and his two assistants could have been killed that April night. He and Charisse have discussed the perspective they’ve gained and how lucky they are that death didn’t come for them to receive the bottom line of this drama.
“The biggest thing is,” said Roberts, “you have to live to the fullest every second you have and enjoy one moment at a time because it’s the simple things that really matter.”
This week Roberts used his wheelchair to go around the block with his daughters and just visited. “It was the greatest afternoon ever.”
Roberts can only put 10 percent of his weight on his left leg. He has lost 20 pounds and doesn’t eat like he used to. His strength is gone. “Being in a wheelchair for two months has changed everything,” he said Saturday morning, sitting up in bed.
“My heart goes out to those people who are stricken and in a wheelchair because we take for granted the ability to walk. We think we are having a bad day over this or that but when you can’t get around, it really hits you that your problems are not that big a deal compared to what others go through who are limited all their lives.”
Roberts has learned to cherish the minutes when his wife and daughters gather in his room and do nothing but talk, exchange words, glances and a little love. For him, the world has slowed down and he’s getting a peek inside the threads that bind his life together.
It’s a wake-up call. A call to a bigger tee box.
It’s made him ready his game for something bigger than a low 62.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.