Golf is a weird game.
Take my recent round with local PGA teaching professional and childhood buddy Roger Hoover. We teamed up against two of his friends at Stone Harbor Golf Club, which Roger used to play back in the day when it was the Jersey Devil.
As if his surgically repaired shoulders weren’t sore enough, he had to carry me for 18 holes.
Cups that seemed as big as Frisbees for me a week earlier now were as small as shot glasses. My best drive was the cart ride from the 18th tee to the clubhouse.
Roger, 62, laughed.
He’s been through too much, dealt with too much, lived through too much, to let an errant shot get to him.
It would be tough to find a body part he hasn’t broken, sprained or strained. He’s torn the meniscus in both knees and the rotator cuffs in both shoulders, had a hip replacement, underwent back surgery. Some injuries were caused by golf and basketball; others were “hold my beer” challenges gone awry.
A couple of years ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer, which caused his lymph nodes to swell to the size of grapefruits. He spent a month in the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, then underwent chemotherapy treatments for seven hours a day for three or four months.
“I lost 50 pounds and all of my muscle tone,” Roger said. “One of my friends came to see me in the hospital and told people I looked like I was going to die.”
He played our round with a pacemaker underneath his shirt, the result of a mysterious virus that attacked his heart in March. At one point, his heart was beating at 25 percent efficiency. Medicine had improved it to around 40 percent — 65 percent is considered ideal — but the drugs left him tired at the end of the day.
Through the ordeals, he’s always had golf, a game that has been part of his life for about 50 years.
He started playing with his father, Arthur, as a youngster at Jersey Devil and emerged as Lower Cape May Regional High School’s top player in the mid-1970s. When Arthur died in 1974, golf helped him cope.
It also saved him at his senior prom.
Anyone who grew up with Roger knows the story. It was spring 1975, and Lower Cape May’s “Precious and Few” dance was being held at the Holiday Inn in Wildwood Crest.
Like every other male teenager in that era, Roger rented his tux from Small’s Formal Wear at the hot-and-happening Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township. He picked it up the morning of the prom and got home to Cape May only to discover his pants were way too long and his shoes were too small.
A friend’s mother was able to hem the pants, but the shoes were a problem.
“I only had one pair of dress shoes,” Roger said. “They were brown and didn’t match the tux. I didn’t know what to do.”
Then he remembered his golf shoes were white. He unscrewed the metal spikes on the bottoms and wore them, much to the delight of his classmates and friends.
Now he’s giving back to the game.
After retiring from the Casino Control Commission — he was a senior accounting inspector and financial analyst — he became a certified PGA teaching professional and formed the Shore Swing Golf Academy, which he operates out of Harbor Pines Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township.
The Somers Point resident hosts a weekly nine-hole outing for the local PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program, which teaches golf to veterans with disabilities to help them improve their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
He gets his biggest thrill out of coaching kids, however.
Roger coaches two teams — the Harbor Pines Leprechauns and Golfin’ Dolphins — in the local PGA Junior League. Each team has 25 kids. One of his players is 12-year-old Aiden Licolli, of Galloway Township, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and Cushing’s disease.
Forced to give up hockey and lacrosse, his two favorite sports, he took up golf a year ago under Roger’s guidance and played in his first PGA Junior League match last month.
In typical fashion, Roger politely refuses to take credit. To him, it’s all about helping others, whether they are veterans, children or 15-handicappers just looking to fix their slice.
In many ways, his heart is as strong as ever.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.