There aren’t many golfers who can say they’ve ever shot in the 60s, and even fewer can honestly say the game saved their life.
Chris Haubach, a former city and county golf champion, can say both. Oct. 21, 2015, was one of the few days remaining on the calendar with weather nice enough for Haubach to ride his scooter from his Freeport home to his job at Newell Rubbermaid/Nova Capital he worked at the same place for all 28 years, but Newell Rubbermaid was bought out by Nova Capital, where he had worked for 28 years.
"I had my truck keys in my hand and I was at the end of my driveway ready to get in my truck and I said, 'You know what, let’s go get the scooter,'" Haubach said. “About five minutes later I was lying in the middle of the street wondering what just happened."
He had crashed headfirst into a Suburban at 30 mph, leaving him paralyzed from just below his shoulders down. The incident also scalped him, caused his left eye to sink in and eventually cost him his job.
The driver of the other vehicle allegedly drove under the influence of the painkiller dihydrocodeine, disobeyed a stop sign and caused the collision. The driver faces felony charges, and the court case is ongoing.
"My life ended that day," Haubach said. "It really did. I had to start over."
Haubach, 48, dealt with suicidal thoughts early one day and suffered from severe depression for about nine months. With the help of his wife, Kelley, friends and a special golf wheelchair purchased after fundraisers at local golf courses, he was slowly able to recover mentally.
He’s had to relearn how to play golf, a sport that once came naturally to him. As a member of Wolf Hollow Golf Course in Lena for 20 years, Haubach was the club champion 15 times and owns the 18-hole course record at 61.
"Chris was one of the best golfers Freeport has ever had," said Park Hills Golf Course pro Jeff Hartman. "It’s great to see him back playing again."
The three-wheeled Ottobock ParaGolfer, which cost $22,500, allows Haubach to maneuver around the golf course. Once he reaches his ball, the machine lifts him into a standing position and allows him to swing the club. He swings one-handed, since he cannot utilize his core.
Since getting the machine last year, Haubach has already notched a hole-in-one. His best score at Wolf Hollow is an 82 from the forward tees, but he vows to break 80 again someday.
"I’m going to learn this game again and I’m going to get as good as I can," Haubach said. "It basically saved my life. This game is something I can look forward to and actually do."
He plays golf four to five times a week, and his drive to be the best has not left him.
"He’s still as hard on himself right now as he was before the accident," said Doral Reining, Wolf Hollow’s pro and Haubach’s friend since high school. "For what he’s been through and how he plays the game, it really is amazing."
Wayne Bardell sometimes accompanies Haubach to the course to tee the ball up for him. Haubach hasn’t yet figured out a way to effectively do it on his own.
The pair were formerly co-workers, but had lost touch when their shifts changed. When Haubach was involved in the crash, Bardell stepped up to take him to therapy for nearly a year.
"I had the time where I could help him,” Bardell said. “We were good friends, and friends have to help each other out."
Haubach isn’t alone when it comes to golfing with a disability. The Stand Up and Play Foundation, which has about 120 chapters, mostly in the United States, works to provide standing golf wheelchairs to paralyzed golfers everywhere. The foundation was founded as a way to get people outside and avoid the bedsores that affect many who are paralyzed, said founder Anthony Netto.
“Golfers have raised money for so many worthy organizations throughout the years,” Netto said. “We challenge the golf courses to step up to the plate and get the paraplegic outdoors.”
A medical breakthrough is the only thing that will ever get Haubach out of a wheelchair. He’s still holding out hope that one day that will happen, but for now, he’s just focusing on living each day and shaving strokes off his game.
"You either give in or you keep going," Haubach said. "Some people may say I’m an inspiration. Maybe, but I’m just trying to live my life."