The biggest hero at the Phoenix Open works in the parking lot, not on the golf course

He'll take it, though. After The Accident, doctors sewed skin grafts over his eyes because his corneas were burned. When he was told early in his recovery that he might need corneal transplants, he took that as good news.

"You can see again with corneal transplants," Jason says. "When you're blind, anything they say that's remotely positive, you hang onto. To have your eyesight and then go to complete, total darkness, that was the worst. They never told me, 'You'll be blind forever,' but it was so difficult to lay in your bed with your thoughts and not be able to see."

Almost a year after The Accident, the grafts were removed. It is another day Jason will not forget. A recovery room nurse wakes him by saying, "Jason, it's over, you're done."

"I remember waking up and whoa! There it is," he says. "I can see a woman wearing blue scrubs. I can't make out her face. I can see the wall and the bed I'm in. It's like being underwater and looking at the other end of the pool. But to see lights and colors again was such a blessing. That was a good day. It was a big momentum shift. I thought, I can see again - things are going to get better now."

Jason has had 52 surgeries by his count, a lot of them on his hands, which were in bad shape.

"I could handle the other ones, but I hated the hand surgeries," he says. "They put pins in, and those pins go way in. You know how they take them out? There's a little ball on the end of the pin. They screw the ball off, then take a pair of pliers and start pulling. Slowly. I ask the doctor, 'You're going to numb me up, right?' He said, 'These are in the bone, we can't numb that.' Oh my gosh, by the time the first one was done, I was ready to punch somebody. Man, it hurt. I had some choice words. Then I look down and remember, there are four more pins to go - on that hand."

Several operations later - OK, many operations later - doctors fuse the knuckles on his right hand so his fingers and palm are slightly crooked. It's obvious the first time you shake Jason's hand.

"Jason had this burning desire to play golf and shoot a gun again," Purdy tells me later. "So the doctors built his hands so he'd be able to do that."

I ask Purdy if maybe he should rephrase the part about Jason's "burning desire" and he chuckles. "Yeah, that just comes out," Purdy said. "Jason would be the first one laughing at that, too. But seriously, golf is one reason he is where he is. He loves it."

Jason's handicap usually floats between zero and one at his home course, Moon Valley Country Club. Considering what he's got to work with - three fingers and a makeshift thumb on each hand, plus limited vision that doesn't allow him to follow the flight of a golf ball - he's one of the best golfers who'll ever take money off you. Especially at Moon Valley, where he feels comfortable and knows the course.

Bubba Watson is among the ranks of Jason's victims. He visited Moon Valley for a round and a wager was negotiated. He gave Jason nine strokes and they'd match cards after they finished since they weren't playing in the same foursome. They did have an exchange as they passed between the 12th green and 13th tee. Jason calls out to ask Bubba how he's doing. Six under, Bubba answers, how about you. Four under, Jason says. "I'm not worried," Bubba replies, "you'll start leaking oil on the way in!"

The punch line? "He was right," Jason says with a laugh. "I did."

Jason shot 70, an excellent score for him. Bubba came in with 63. So Bubba whipped out a $20 bill, autographed it and handed it over. Jason still has the bill and the scorecards. Bubba won the Masters a month later.

Wednesday in the Phoenix Open pressroom, I ask Bubba if he remembers Jason and the $20. Of course. I tell him Jason still has that autographed bill, and that's when Bubba asks how much I think it is worth now that Watson's won the Masters, I answer, "20 bucks."

Bubba grins and nods his head. "Yup," he says, "I'd say that's about right."

One time Jason, Purdy and Charles Barkley ended up on the same Phoenix-to-Los Angeles flight in first class. "The flight attendant kept bringing Jason free drinks," Purdy recalls. "Not Charles. It was funny."

As they walked through the LAX terminal, Purdy says Jason was stopped and asked for more autographs than Sir Charles. Some of them, of course, mistook Jason for J.R. Martinez, the Iraq war veteran who won Dancing With the Stars. Still, it all began to eat at Barkley, a famously frustrated golfer, until finally he had to speak up.

"Jason, you piss me off," Barkley tells him, only half-joking. "Your hands look like that and you're a scratch golfer. I hate you."

----------

The adventures of Jason Schechterle, inspirational public speaker:

"I had so many surgeries. I had one on my thumb on Sept. 10 of 2001, a 14-hour surgery. When I woke up, my wife told me that my grandmother had died. I was so weak, and still blind. I thought, 'What a terrible day this has been.' I was really feeling sorry for myself.

"The next morning, my dad came to my hospital room early, which was a little unusual. He's a hard-core New Jersey guy. He was very emotional. He told me terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center. He turned on the news so I could listen to it. I was kind of fuzzy on the details because of all the medicine I was taking, plus I couldn't see. I just remember when the towers collapsed, and they talked about how many firefighters were in there. So many guys died in an instant. I couldn't believe it. I don't think NBC went to a commercial for four days. At least, that's how it seemed to me. I just listened.

"It put things into perspective for me. My grandmother passed away. The next morning, we witness the biggest tragedy America has ever known. It made me realize, 'You're not alone in tragedy. Compared to those people, you're doing OK.'"

----------

It was October 2011 when Jason got a phone call from Mike McQuade, the Big Chief of the Thunderbirds, a volunteer organization that stages the Phoenix Open and supports many other worthy causes with the $80 million it has raised for Arizona charities. He said he wanted to hire Jason for a speaking engagement.

Go to Page 5

Forecast
PGA Tour News
Trips
Travel & Courses
Lessons
Tips & Videos
The Shop
Equipment News & Reviews