Knoxville native Jared Brentz is a top contender in the first annual Amputee Long Drive Championship presented by Pilot Flying J on July 18-19 at the Tennessee National Golf Club in Loudon. He was born with arthrogryposis and club feet and had both feet amputated at age 12.
Who taught you to golf?
Phil Hatcher gave me some basics. But with my situation—no one can really teach a double amputee golf. I picked up things here and there and learned by going to the driving range and seeing what works. I was athletic enough that I knew how to make corrections based on the flight of the ball. I still never have a set swing—it depends on how my legs work. I may swing one way the first nine of a game and then make adjustments and swing a different way on the back nine.
Are you going to win the championship?
I’m not showing up to lose. Hopefully, this idea will really take off and three or four tournaments down the road we’ll have all of the best of the best coming out, television coverage, and a lot of interest.
When did you start to golf?
I made the sixth-grade middle school team at Karns, so I was officially playing by then and probably earlier.
Did anyone ever try to discourage you due to your amputations?
No, that has never been an issue. The way I carry myself and my demeanor I don’t really have that kind of issue. If I do, I tend to correct it on the spot.
A lot of people never realize you’re a double amputee?
Yes, most people don’t know that—don’t know anything about me at all unless I tell them, and I like it that way. At work here in Nashville they probably didn't know anything about the fact until a year after I was hired. Some people say, "But Jared, your story is so inspiring!"But you walk through Children’s Hospital, there are kids there who have been there for years, had 40 surgeries, so many more things. I’m just like, “You have no idea. This is nothing.”
Do you spend a lot of time on golf?
I spend the time that I can; there’s a lot going on with my work. For this competition, I’ve been trying to strengthen some areas in the gym. But I’ve never had an issue hitting a drive, even when I haven’t played in months, I can do it after a few good swings. I may not be the best putter when I haven’t played in a while though!
What’s the longest drive you’ve hit?
I’ve had some good ones. One that may not have been the longest, but is one of my proudest moments, was when I was playing a low-ball tournament at Dead Horse. The tees are way in back, and this was hole No. 9 I think, which goes over water. It forces you to hit 200 yards sharp or go in the water. It was a really dry day, wasn’t much wind, and I was like, “I’m going for it.” I teed up and hit that ball as good as you can hit anything. All you can do is look in the water, and know by the ripples whether your ball went in there. We didn’t see it, and we started driving down the green and all of the sudden there was my ball. It had literally plugged in the soft ground 7-8 yards from the green.
You decided yourself to have the amputations—doesn’t that seem intense for a 12-year-old?
I think about that a lot when I see a kid today and they say, "I'm 12." It came down to that really being the only decision. One option was to live in a wheelchair—our house already had the ramp put in—but that was not going to happen. The next was a fusion operation that they explained would make me walk like Frankenstein. That was not going to happen. And I grew up in a very athletic household. If it’s a sport, anything, my brother Bryce and I are competing against each other. (My mom doesn’t like that because something always gets broken.) Or we’re together on one team and then it’s all-out warfare. Those three things together made me have a choice, but not really. If I did the amputations, it would be up me how far I wanted to go after that. I just wanted to be able to throw the baseball with my brother, and be outside playing. I don't play video games--but I look at most 12-year-old today and I somehow don't see them doing the same thing I did.
Are you the best athlete in your family?
Bryce, my twin brother, is a three-sport letterman and can play football and obviously baseball—he’s in the minors. I think there are certain fundamentals he gets to use, certain ways he gets to play, and does really well because he’s good at moving his body the way an athlete is supposed to. Me, though, there are certain fundamentals I have to adjust so I can play at all. I’m never quite certain how I’m going to do it. I’m just as athletic in my own right, and I think he respects that. Our gym teacher wouldn’t even let us play softball on the same team. And we always wrestled; that’s something we always did well. We tore up enough stuff, that’s for sure.
Is there a message you want people to take away from this championship?
The athletes are from all walks of life, and they lost a limb in some way—some at birth, some from disease or an accident, some are warriors. It’s pretty point-blank: We can still do some things a lot better than ordinary people. Or maybe even simpler than that. We go out and hit, even though we’ve been through some struggles. We’re still out doing, and being competitive—still out living our lives.
For more information: amputeelongdrivechampionship.com