Bridgehampton, N.Y. — John Engler is grateful, even blessed, to be playing at this week’s 30th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
That perspective was born from having survived a tragic car accident that nearly severed his right foot from his leg and killed two people in March 2003.
People ask me a lot and I’m totally at peace with it, said Engler, 31, of Augusta, Ga. I could be a lot worse.
Indeed, but Engler will be the first to admit that just showing up at Atlantic Golf Club is not acceptable. Not even advancing to Monday’s start of match play will sate his competitive hunger.
I’m the toughest competitor there is, so I’m harder on myself than anyone else, said Engler, who shot a 6-over-par 150 (75-75) in stroke-play qualifying. I showed up yesterday prepared to win a golf tournament. If I don’t win I’m not going to be happy.
This week marks Engler’s first foray into match-play competition since the 2001 U.S. Amateur at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga. That year, in a field that included Clemson University teammates D.J. Trahan and Lucas Glover, Engler reached the third round.
The intervening nine years between USGA championship appearances have been as trying as they have been rewarding.
While at Clemson, he was among the Tigers’ finest. He was a three-time All-American who posted 21 top-10 finishes and led the team in scoring average as a senior. He turned pro in 2002 and played on what is now the Nationwide Tour.
Early in his 2003 season — March 23 to be exact — Engler’s career was forever altered when he was in a head-on collision that took the lives of Bryan Rampey and Leslie Campbell Rampey. Engler, hanging upside down in his SUV, strapped in by his seatbelt, most certainly would have died had a couple not happened upon the crash and pulled him from his burning vehicle.
His right foot was mangled, the prospect of ever playing golf at the level he dreamed of as a kid was practically shattered as well.
Remember, though, Engler shows up to win.
Numerous surgeries and months of rehabilitation gave Engler the proverbial second chance. And nearly 30 months later he earned his 2006 PGA Tour card. His career never fully blossomed and by late 2007, Engler was icing his ankle two to three hours a night just so he could continue playing. Doctors, though, were telling him to not play more than 10 tournaments a year.
That’s not realistic if you want to stay on tour … unless you’re winning, Engler said. So I was pretty at peace with being finished with golf. I didn’t play, except for an occasional round, between the end of ’07 and end of 2008.
Somewhere in between, Engler went down to St. Simons Island, Ga., and played a round with Todd Anderson, the director of instruction at Sea Island Golf Club. Engler, who now works for the family-run McKnight Construction and McKnight Properties, a construction and real estate firm in Augusta, Ga., remembers playing well and Anderson telling him he was still too good not to compete.
So we came up with a list of minor goals and making USGA events was one of them, said Engler, who first had to apply for amateur reinstatement and was granted his status in August of 2009.
Engler failed to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur, the latter attempt coming on the heels of missing a playoff by one stroke at the Palmetto Amateur.
Basically I played six rounds in six days, said Engler, saying that his joint can not handle such demands and he’s still been advised not to play more than 10 tournaments a year. But this is the first step. Next year, I will probably try and piecemeal a competitive schedule.
Not just for the love of playing the game, but because of the competition.
And because he shows up to win.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship websites.