"Talk to God and listen to his casual reply" -John Denver
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I'm going to give you a little advice. There's a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball. -Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) in the movie Caddyshack
My road back to golf and to Clay Hamrick was a spiritual one.
December 2011 caused me to face my two biggest fears: surgery in general and prostate surgery in particular.
My father died a painful death from prostate cancer at age 59. Since his death in 1993, I have been a fanatic about taking the PSA exam and being examined for prostate cancer. I've fought with doctors and insurance companies. I insist on being tested far more than insurance company guidelines.
When I started having intense pain in the prostate region, I kept on going. When I started stopping every 15 to 20 minutes to use the bathroom, I kept on going. I figured that with all of my testing and worry, prostate cancer could not happen to me. Also, I did not want to find out it could.
By December, I was in such pain that I couldn't drive. I still insisted on taping a weekly segment I was doing for a local television station. By fluke or divine intervention, the person I asked to drive me to the station, Anne Parton, was new to my organization, but had trained to be a registered nurse.
Anne insisted on driving me to the emergency room, where the doctors drained 17 pounds of fluid from my bladder. I was lucky to be alive. After a couple of weeks of unsuccessful treatment options, I had to face my next biggest fear: surgery.
I help people who receive large sums of money and I'm an expert in a field called structured settlements. Although I am best known for my work with lottery winners, the vast majority of my clients are injury victims and many of the big cases come from medical malpractice.
I've seen people go in for routine surgery and die. I've seen others come out in wheelchairs. I had one client go in for minor knee surgery and come out with a heart transplant. It took a major league screw-up to have that happen. Although statistically, the overwhelming majority of people who have surgery come out fine, I've spent 30 years with the ones who don't.
I made it from age five to age 52 without being in a hospital. For anything. Suddenly, I did not have a choice.
Then, I did something I had not done in a long time. I prayed. And got an army of people, mostly from my Facebook page, of different faiths, religions and spiritual beliefs to pray along with me.
I came to the conclusion that one of two things could happen: I would live or die and go to heaven.
The thought gave me the peace and the courage to face the surgery.
Which did not go well.
Karen Thomas, my fiancé at the time (who is now my wife, Karen Thomas McNay), is now the incoming president of the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, the oldest Catholic school in the United States, but at the time was principal of Christ the King Elementary in Lexington.
Although I have twelve years of Catholic education and served as president of my church council, I had fallen away from organized religion several years ago.
Being in a potential life or death situation changed that tune immediately.
On the day of my surgery, Karen took me to see a priest to hear my confession and give me last rites in case something went wrong.
Something did go wrong. Because of a scheduling screw-up, I was prepped for surgery and waited for eight hours, only to be told to come back two days later.
I kept hoping I did not commit any sins during the two days, but since I was in screaming, intense pain, I did not have much opportunity.
On the second try, the hospital staff fell over themselves to make up for the mistake, and I was the first person taken to surgery. I woke up a few hours later, attached to my now-familiar catheter. I had a very rough night, which included a bad experience with an unpleasant and inexperienced nurse.
Getting into it with the nurse was a traumatic experience.
I love nurses. My late mother was an operating room nurse for 27 years, and my family and friends endowed the Ollie McNay nursing scholarship at Eastern Kentucky University after her death.
It's impossible for me to not see my mother in every nurse I encounter. I treat them with the respect that mom deserved and didn't always get.
After that horrible night, I tried to call and email my family and friends to get me out of the place. It was very early in the morning, and I couldn't find anyone.
Then, the shift changed and my guardian angel arrived.
In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) had a guardian angel who was an older, prissy man named Clarence.
My guardian angel was an attractive, mid-20s nurse assistant from Nicholasville, Ky., named Crystal Hamblin.
Once Crystal and the registered nurse she worked with, Sydney Napier Thigpen, came on the scene, life got better.
Crystal is now a massage therapist, and at the time she only worked in the hospital every other weekend. Fortunately, she was scheduled for my weekend.
Crystal is street smart with tons of common sense. She is a source of calm, but she was dealing with a middle-age man who wanted to jump out of his skin.
She and I immediately became (and remain) friends, and she walked me through some deep breathing exercises. She changed my gown, helped me get out of bed and made me feel human again.
The message hit me that little things are what life is all about.
Sydney and I hit it off right away, too. Syd has the work ethic and concern for her patients that reminded me of my mom. Because of a blood clot and other issues, it looked like I may have to be operated on again, but Crystal and Sydney were my angels. Along with the power of prayer, they kept me calm.
They found a resident and a bunch of other nurses, and with several intense efforts, they broke the blood clot.
A few days later, the urologist told me I did not have cancer. I was in horrible pain and missed out on Christmas and New Year's, but I had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
My present was the outpouring of love, prayers and support, many from people who only read about me on Facebook.
Just like George Bailey, I've lived a wonderful life and had not always appreciated it.
Having so many people praying reminded me that prayer is a universal language. I connected with angels at the hospital, but I also connected with the angels of above.
Prayer had been missing from my life for years, and I was reminded of why it is a tenet of every faith in the world.
Having everything happen during the Christmas season gave me time to deeply reflect.
When my father had a stroke at age 43, he prayed for three things. He prayed that he would live long enough to see a grandchild, and my nephew Nick came into the world a few years later. He prayed that he would meet the right life partner, and he hit the jackpot with my stepmother Lynn. He wanted one of his children to graduate from college, and I made that prayer happen.
Based on my father's model, I prayed for similar life events. One that I articulated was I wanted to play golf again. I had stopped about a decade earlier as I decided I was too fat to play. I was not in the physical condition to play nine holes.
Going through surgery made me determined to take better care of myself. And to find an instructor who could get me excited about playing golf again.
I feel like God's hand led me to Clay Hamrick.
Clay came from an unlikely referral source. We both use the same stylist, Nicole Gilliam. Clay has a full head of perfectly styled hair, and it takes Nicole about five minutes to trim my few remaining locks.
The odds of both of us using the same hairdresser are improbable. However, I told Nicole I was looking for a golf instructor, and she gave me Clay's number.
Our hair style is not the only difference between Clay and me. We are different ages, with different body sizes and distinctly different political views. However, we immediately became close friends.
Clay is well-educated and extremely well-read. Like myself, he is an intense competitor and has an incredible work ethic.
He is one of the best golf teachers I have ever encountered, especially with young children. Unlike most instructors, he is not just a student of the game, but a student of life and all the things that make us do what we do.
Golf is not about striking a ball with a club. It is about all those things in our psychological makeup that allow us to play the game to the best or worst of our abilities.
When a professional golfer misses a short putt and loses a major championship, it was not lack of training that caused the ball to be mishit; it was something in the core of their inner self.
Clay understands this. It did not surprise me when he said he had been working on a book for a number of years. It surprised me when he said it was a golf instruction book.
I wasn't all that excited about reading his manuscript. As I told him at the time, the world doesn't need another book about how to keep your elbows straight. I've read all of them, and they just made my game worse.
He is my friend, so I took it home to read anyway.
I was stunned at what he had written. I started reading it in the parking lot of his golf course and could not put it down. I called him at home that night to arrange dinner the next day.
I told him that his book was not about golf, it was about psychology and spirituality. Golf was just the mechanism to advance his theories and thoughts.
I asked to be his co-author and help him organize the book into 10 chapters, like the Ten Commandments, and coach him in his writing the way that he has coached me in golf.
I've taken 80 golf lessons with Clay, and thanks to his instruction and coaching, at age 54 I play the best golf of my life. Being on the course brings me a sense of inner peace, fun and accomplishment that I have never felt in a sports environment before.
When you read Life Lessons from the Golf Course, you will be touched by Clay's tremendous insights and passion, but you will see how the skills he is teaching translate to every aspect of life.
Golf is a microcosm of life. This book is a chance to learn about golf, but also learn about being in touch with yourself and with a higher power.
The power of prayer got me to Clay Hamrick.
This book will be the answer to many people's prayers. It will make them better golfers, but also better people.
I'm proud to be part of making that happen.
Life Lessons from the Golf Course is currently available on Amazon and released to bookstores everywhere on April 9.